Catching ‘swatters’ isn’t easy, authorities say
The disruptive trend known as "swatting" has taken New Jersey by storm. There have been several incidents this past week alone, prompting heavy police presence at a school, mall or hospital for absolutely no reason.
It's bad enough that personnel and resources are wasted on each hoax threat, but officials must also deal with the difficult task of finding who's responsible.
The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is in the process of developing partnerships with federal authorities in order to help with their swatting investigations.
"These types of investigations take an extreme measure of commitment and time, so you don't see anything happen overnight," said spokesman Al Della Fave. "In order to track back these events, we need help far beyond what's available on the local level."
On Thursday, Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrence was evacuated around 6 p.m. due to a false bomb threat. Shoppers were re-admitted by about 8 p.m., after the county's K-9 unit searched the mall, according to an article on NJ.com.
The Ocean County Mall was evacuated Wednesday night, once again due to a false bomb threat. The mall was not declared safe until close to midnight.
Hours later on Thursday morning, Oak Street School in Lakewood was evacuated as well. In Holmdel, St. John Vianney High School was forced into "shelter in place" mode.
Other hoaxes this week targeted University Medical Center of Princeton and Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, said most swatting calls include an electronic footprint that can be traced, but that process can include court orders and several technology companies.
"There are a lot of high-tech tools that the threat-makers have - computer-generated voices to spoofing of phone numbers to make it look like they're calling from a legitimate number," Trump said.
Crime prevention specialist Vincent Bove in Short Hills said swatting incidents are a "great injustice" to law enforcement and the community, but "good will triumph over evil."
"Individuals who know this injustice is being committed have a moral obligation to speak up, to stand up and to be counted and come forward and tell law enforcement officials who is doing this," Bove said.
New Jersey lawmakers and law enforcement officials have expressed concern that swatting calls can take emergency personnel away from an actual emergency occurring elsewhere.