Fake 911 Calls Can Terrorize Innocent Victims And Law Enforcement

Aug 23, 2019

Credit Carolyn Murray / PCPD

Earlier this summer, the Park City Police Department and the Summit County Sheriff’s office responded to an emergency call claiming a woman had been murdered in her home. The caller gave a legitimate Prospector neighborhood home address to police—but the report was false.

The term used for this type of fake emergency call is “swatting.” Reports show it’s happening all over the country and occurring more frequently in the past several years, and it’s resulted in fatal consequences. Often, victims are high-profile people who are targeted by the fake caller. Sometimes it involves a vendetta, but in the case of the swatting call made to the Park City Police in June, Police Chief Wade Carpenter doesn’t know if it was specifically intended to hurt the residents living at the Cooke Drive address.

“We went back through dispatch. We tried to find where the number came from. It came from a cloned phone number and obviously that precluded our ability to find out where that was coming from.”

Carpenter says it’s like robocalls where the number appears to be local. Police believe this call came from Texas, and he says they confirmed a Cooke Drive address in Texas that could have been the intended target.

Park City Council Member Tim Henney says the police acted with integrity and professionalism. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. He believes it was an act of hate and cowardice and that the intent of the caller was to inflame racism in the community.

“And it pitted our police officers against residents. And, there are victims here. There are three victims. The residents who live there. They were targeted. They’re unit. Their house, their home. We’re all victims. But they were specifically targeted. The police were specifically targeted by putting them in this position of conflict. An impossible position.”

Park City Police Department Lieutenant Darwin Little says a bogus call was received April 27 to divert resources away from a crime taking place on Main Street.

“Suspects made a phone call into dispatch 911over some sort of help me quick, a female caller and then hung up. We couldn’t call back. But obviously that was to divert officers away from downtown where other suspects went in and burglarized a jewelry store.”

Carpenter says they frequently engage other law enforcement agencies in response to emergency calls, so they don’t over commit to one incident. In this case, the caller claimed a homicide had occurred.

“It was very unique in the sense that going at that early morning hours, we actually found individuals directly outside the home in a vehicle.”

Carpenter says they had no alternative but to deal with the call as if it were real. A neighbor who saw the event had concerns the police did not have Spanish-speaking officers on site during the response.

“The information that came in from the neighbors, wasn’t accurate. We did have officers on scene that were speaking in Spanish. And certainly, what we can do as a resolution to these, is follow up with the occupants and explain better what happened and to make sure they are taking that extra time, following an incident, to explain what is going on.”

Carpenter believes social media postings can be used by bad actors to prey on victims and recommends people be careful what they choose to share with the world. A fake kidnapping call came into the Park City Police Department last year and he thinks the incident likely would not have happened if the family hadn’t posted their location and vacation plans.

“Robo calls where people are told they need to contact the IRS. They have taxes that are overdue. They’ll seize their account. The IRS never contacts people by phone. It’s always in written form.”

A public record of the Park City Police Department response has been obtained by KPCW and is posted with this report.