State legislators can strengthen penalties to try to further prevent swatting and better ensure its prosecution.
A woman hugs a student outside Portland High School on Nov. 15, 2022, after a hoax active shooting. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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There was a disturbing wave of false school shooting reports in Maine this fall, and those hoaxes caused real trauma in school communities that experienced them. So it makes sense for Maine lawmakers to clarify and strengthen penalties for this harmful trend known as “swatting.”

Democratic Sen. Anne Carney of Cape Elizabeth has proposed making this type of false report a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. This is not guaranteed to stop swatting, which has become unfortunately frequent across the country and typically involves someone making a false report in order to elicit an emergency response like a shutdown, lockdown or evacuation. But state legislators can and should clarify language and strengthen penalties to try to further prevent this crime and better ensure its prosecution.

“I wanted to make sure we had the legal tools to capture this conduct,” Carney told the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety last week

Carney also cited BDN Opinion Editor Susan Young in her testimony. “School shootings are tragically frequent, and any reports of an active shooter in a school send ripples of fear and worry through communities,” Young wrote in a Nov. 18 column. Students, school staff and others explained that fear and worry to lawmakers at the March 6 committee hearing.

It is clear that swatting has caused trauma, and state lawmakers should respond, even if this proposed law won’t be able to guarantee that these false reports are prevented. Toughening penalties and making it easier to prosecute instances of swatting are warranted steps to counter this trend. That is probably why a wide range of voices, from the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to police chiefs and prosecutors, support the bill.

Katie Schindler, who works at Sanford High School and Sanford Regional Technical Center where a swatting incident occurred in November, testified in favor of the bill, LD 405, this week. She described hearing the lockdown announcement coming over the intercom, how she went from thinking it was a drill until a nearby classroom started pushing things in front of their door, how she hid in her office, and how she texted her husband to tell him that she was scared and that she loved him. Her testimony is a heartbreaking and frankly infuriating look into the real impact of these false reports.

“If this bill helps in any way to prevent others from going through what we went through on November 15th, I urge each of you to pass this important piece of legislation,” Schindler said last Monday. “I am forever changed from this event. I hate the word hoax! This was not a hoax to those of us that were in the building that day. We thought there was an active shooter in our building and the fear we felt was very real!”

The swatting hoax wave that Maine experienced this past November hit 16 communities, including Portland, Ellsworth, Sanford and others.

“There’s a very significant impact. You have that brief moment, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, you have that time period where you legitimately believe there is an active shooting event going on,” Amy Klinger, co-founder of the Educator’s School Safety Network, told BDN reporter Sawyer Loftus last fall. “It creates an incredible amount of trauma and fear because, at that moment, however long it is, people are responding and acting as though they are in fear for their lives because they are.”

These fake reports can cause real harm, and must have real consequences. The experiences of those who have been through swatting in Maine clearly demonstrate the need for action.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...