By Andrea Cordle
A Grove City councilwoman may have been a victim of swatting.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, swatting is a hoax call to 9-1-1 to draw a response from law enforcement and emergency services.
Grove City councilwoman Maria Klemack-McGraw said last week she was sitting in her backyard relaxing after a trip out of state. While outside, she heard emergency sirens getting closer. She said she was shocked when an ambulance and police cruisers showed up at her home.
Klemack-McGraw said an officer asked her if she or anyone in her home called 9-1-1.
“It was obvious it was a prank,” said the councilwoman.
Grove City Division of Police Chief Steven Robinette said the emergency call originated out of Franklin County from a wireless phone. He said the number was generic and they were only able to track the cell tower it came from.
Robinette said the call came in as an unknown emergency. He said in that case, the dispatchers are not sure if the call is medical or criminal in nature. Robinette said it is procedure to send at least two uniformed officers and a medic.
“It is a shame to waste the time of our emergency workers,” said Klemack-McGraw. “Their services could have been used elsewhere.”
The FBI learned of this phone hacking scam in 2008. The perpetrators manipulate technology to make it difficult for police to trace the original number.
According to the FBI, there has been a recent trend of so-called celebrity swatting, where the victims are well known actors or musicians.
Robinette said the incident at the councilwoman’s house is the first time he has heard of this happening in Grove City. He said he is not sure if this was a prank or some kind of communication mixup.
“We are taking this seriously,” said Robinette.
The police chief said a bogus call to 9-1-1 is a waste of police resources and it could put citizens and responders at risk.
He said those emergency workers could have been needed in a real emergency. He also said the medics and officers are racing to the scene with sirens, which could lead to a traffic accident.
“Any time the sirens are on, there is a risk,” said Robinette. “There is always that potential.”
Reporting a false alarm is a misdemeanor. Robinette said depending on the situation, the person who made the hoax call could also face charges of inducing panic.
If caught and prosecuted, the person responsible could face a maximum jail sentence of six months and a $1,000 fine.