Butte-Silver Bow law enforcement personnel got a “swatting” Tuesday morning, via a prank phone call. It was far from being funny.
Dispatch got a call from a man, reportedly living in the 600 block of Travonia Street, who stated he had just killed a person and was holding another person hostage.
The caller indicated he was calling from Butte, but dispatch noted the phone number had an out-of-state area code.
Sheriff Ed Lester and his team were quickly on the scene setting up a perimeter. Meanwhile, the Butte Fire Department, A-1 Ambulance, Montana Highway Patrol, negotiators and the SWAT team were called in.
Turns out, it was all a hoax, and nationwide it's a trend that's been going on for several years.
It’s called swatting, a term used in making a false report. According to 911.gov, the hoax is an attempt to “muster the largest response possible” from law enforcement. Many times officers “confront unsuspecting victims at gunpoint.”
“We have no choice but to respond according to the information we have,” Lester said. “It was a huge waste of resources.”
Swatting can also have deadly consequences. In 2017, Andrew Finch, a 28-year-old Kansas man, was killed by police in his own home after Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles called police and falsely reported that Finch had killed a family member and was holding two more hostage. Barriss would later be sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
Lester said there were teenagers sitting near the back of the Travonia Street house. When questioned, they had no idea what was going on.
Law enforcement then searched the home and found no evidence of any crime.
Lester noted that nothing good comes from making a false report.
“We are glad it wasn’t real,” he said, “but responders were definitely placed in jeopardy as they responded to the call.”
From beginning to end, the “swatting” lasted one hour. It was the first of its kind in Butte, and the sheriff hopes it is the last.
“I try to look at the bright side of things,” he said. “Our response was good, and it showed that we were able to get a lot of resources to the scene quickly.”