FBI investigates NJ ‘swatting’ calls to 10 towns
State Police said there were at least 10 "swatting" calls received Friday by New Jersey school districts.
Police in Barnegat, East Brunswick, Freehold Township, Hamilton (Mercer), Jackson, Lower Township, Newark, Stafford, Toms River and Vineland received what turned out to be hoax calls about a shooting inside a school.
Local police departments are investigating their respective incidents and then submitting their findings to the Newark office of the FBI, which is investigating the origin of the calls, according to State Police.
Swatting is defined as a hoax emergency call aimed at getting a massive response to an address, often with the purpose of harassing the target of the call. Not only do these calls waste emergency resources but they can be dangerous because police are being dispatched to a scene where they believe they will confront a dangerous threat.
Barnegat police Chief Keith Germain said that his department responds a couple times a year to threats and it's always an "all-hands-on-deck situation" no matter what.
"All the uniformed patrol officers are going, the detectives are going out the door, the lieutenants and captains area going out the door. Everybody is going to that scene and they're bringing with them every weapon that we have to bring to bear. You're going to see cops out of the car with the rifles. There's a reason you carry them," Germain said.
Friday was a Unique Situation
Friday's call was unique because the caller said shots had already been fired inside Barnegat High School.
"For every one of those officers responding to that school believed that they were responding to confront an armed gunman. This was a more heightened response than some of the other ones we've experienced in the past. So that's an important distinction in this one," the chief said.
When officers arrived and saw no one panicking, they were surprised. After an initial sweep of the school, it was clearly a hoax. Germain said that the call has a silver lining for him.
"These give us an opportunity to exercise our plan and exercise our process as a result of this. We automatically debrief the incident at the police department looking for things that we need to address and improve the things that we can do better," Germain said. "We had a debriefing with the school district staff this morning so that we could work with them on things that they can do on their own to improve the response."
The FBI's Newark office had a stern warning for parents that swatting is a criminal offense that will follow you or your child for many years to come.
"Even when intended as a joke, it presents a threat with very serious consequences," the FBI said. "The FBI remains engaged with our law enforcement partners throughout the state of New Jersey. If and when our participation is required, we stand ready to engage. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately."
The FBI Newark did not comment about the investigation itself but warned that swatting is a criminal offense that will follow an offender for many years to come.
"Even more concerning, it can result in harm or death, as we recently saw in Connecticut. Even when intended as a joke, it presents a threat with very serious consequences. The FBI remains engaged with our law enforcement partners throughout the state of New Jersey. If and when our participation is required, we stand ready to engage. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately," the FBI said in a statement.