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Summit County Sheriff Discusses Fake Calls

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Summit County Sheriff's Department
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The practice of “swatting”—making fraudulent 911 calls to police can be annoying at best and dangerous at worst.

As we’ve reported, officers from Park City and Summit County responded earlier this summer to a bogus report of a homicide.

Still, Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez says they have to take all calls seriously, until they can develop further information to determine if a call is fake.

Sheriff Martinez noted that they had a “swat” call last year from White Pine Canyon.

He said the phony calls can bring up a lot of resources.

“Somebody says they’ve murdered a family and they’re holding a child hostage, or something along those lines. That’s a response that a lot of times is going to require negotiation teams, SWAT teams. So the first responders get there, and we contain the scene. So there’s a lot of resources that are used. We have to respond in an appropriate manner. Then we quickly realize that is not that situation—by making phone calls into the house, by gathering intelligence outside of the residence while you’re arriving.”

The “swat” calls can distract officers from real, important duties—and in some cases they are deliberate diversions of law enforcement. Even more worrisome, Sheriff Martinez said, these situations can escalate quickly.

It’s extremely hard to track down the source of a phony call.

“Because they are not using phone numbers that are legitimate phone number. They’re scrubbed one, two or three times through a service, and by the time we track it down, the phone number has already been scrubbed and it is gone. Some of them, we find, are coming from other countries, other states.”

The sheriff said they have to treat every call at the highest level—at least, at first. He talked about alarms from a bank.

“Somebody accidentally hit the wrong alarm in a bank. Let’s just say it was actually being robbed. They call us back and say, hey, we’re not being robbed. Well, unless we treat it, every case, that it’s a true robbery. If the robber happens to be in there, and says to the person in the bank, “Just tell police that this is a fake, you actually hit the wrong button.” And we don’t respond? Now we have another situation at hand. So, we have to treat each and every one of these calls at its highest level, and then we de-escalate it as we gather intelligence, as we talk to people, as we go and figure things out.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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