Mass. congresswoman who sponsored anti-‘swatting’ bill becomes victim of hoax

Congresswoman Katherine Clark in her office in Washington, D.C.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark in her office in Washington, D.C. –Louie Palu / The Boston Globe

A Massachusetts congresswoman who is fighting to make swatting — the act of falsely reporting an emergency that causes law enforcement (usually a SWAT team) to respond to an unsuspecting person’s home — a federal offense became the victim of the hoax herself Sunday night.

Police responded to Congresswoman Katherine Clark’s Melrose home around 10 p.m. Sunday night after receiving a computer-generated message stating that there were “shots fired’’ and an “active shooter’’ at her address, according to a police statement. Clark and her husband had just put their sons to bed and were watching Veep when police cruisers blocked her street and officers with “long guns’’ swarmed her front lawn, she told The Boston Globe.

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Police said they quickly determined that there was no actual threat to Clark and her family.

“My family and I are grateful to Chief [Michael] Lyle and the Melrose Police Department for their timely and professional response,’’ Clark said in a statement Monday. “No mother should have to answer the door to the police in the middle of the night and fear for her family’s safety simply because an anonymous person disagrees with her.’’

In November, Clark introduced the “Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015’’ to Congress. If passed, the bill would subject anyone found guilty of swatting to a fine and up to five years imprisonment for facilitating an unnecessary emergency response. If anyone were to be seriously injured or killed as a result of the response, the bill increases the punishment to 20 years or life in prison, respectively.

Currently, federal law prohibits fabricating reports of bomb threats or terrorist attacks, but lacks provisions for false claims regarding other types of emergencies.

“It appears that someone was trying to elicit a police response by making a false report,’’ Chief Lyle said in a statement. “We take incidents like this very seriously, and will conduct a thorough investigation.’’

Last year, Boston.com was able to confirm 11 incidents of swatting across the state. The fake calls demand the attention of emergency personnel and waste the state’s resources on fabricated crime, and the anonymous nature of the reports make perpetrators difficult to track down, authorities explained.

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“I’m relieved that no one was hurt, but the sad reality is, these hoaxes known as ‘swatting’ are a danger to victims, first responders, and our emergency preparedness,’’ Clark said. “This is the exact reason that I introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act — I want perpetrators to know that there are legal repercussions to their actions, and I’m committed to giving law enforcement the tools to deter these dangerous crimes.’’

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