THE TOP STORIES OF 2015: Princeton Public Schools plagued by ‘swatting’ calls

Princeton schools logo 6/11/15

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
The Princeton Public Schools, along with school districts across the state and the country, was plagued by so-called “swatting” calls — anonymous calls that threaten harm to students and staff.
Swatting involves contacting an individual or a school or other institution with a false report designed to draw a response from a police department or its SWAT team. The call can be generated from another state or another country.
There were 10 reported calls to the elementary schools, the John Witherspoon Middle School and Princeton High School between April and October. Students and staff were either evacuated or told to shelter in place, depending on the circumstances.
Sometimes, the swatter made a specific reference to the type of harm intended, such as a bomb threat or — in the case of the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, which was also targeted by swatters — gunmen on the loose inside the building. In most cases, the threat is generalized and non-specific.
None of the threats made to the Princeton Public Schools were carried out, but they were disruptive and forced police to direct manpower hours to respond and investigate the calls. Authorities believe the calls were coming from electronic gamers, where the swatting phenomenon began.
The swatting concept started with gamers pranking another gamer by calling in a fake emergency to police so they would respond to that person’s house. They would watch the SWAT team response via a video camera in the victim’s computer.
The Princeton Police Department worked closely with the school district to monitor the calls. School district officials are taking steps to work with a high-tech telephone security company. The technology will allow officials to get information about the source of the calls and redirect them to another phone bank or school staff trained in threat assessment. 

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