Following a series of hoax 911 calls last year across Pennsylvania, including the Delaware Valley, a group of Republican state representatives plans to introduce a package of bills meant to give law enforcement more power to prosecute suspects.

Reps. Craig Williams (R-Delaware/Chester), Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh), Dawn Keefer (R-York), and Jim Rigby (R-Cambria/Somerset) announced the legislation on Feb. 22 targeting the suspects, also known as ‘swatters.’

Law enforcement has complained about swatting for years, saying it wastes resources and takes up time that can be spent investigating other crimes. Victims have included federal judges, celebrities, and politicians. Schools and religious groups have also been targeted.

A Pennsylvania teen was arrested last May after law enforcement said he made multiple swatting calls across the country.

“Swatting inflicts serious damage on individuals and property,” said Williams about his proposal. “My legislation grants victims the right to sue individuals making false reports. It allows for the recovery of damages from these malicious acts, ensuring victims access restitution directly from those responsible.”

The issue is personal for Rigby, who formerly served as a police chief in western Pennsylvania. He said he responded to swatting calls and wants them to stop. “These ‘swatters’ are toying with officers’ passion to answer the call and wasting time and money in search of a cheap thrill that actually isn’t cheap, as well as potentially putting lives at risk.”

His bill gives officers civil immunity when they respond to a swatting call. A description of the bill said police need civil immunity because they believe “lives are in danger and swift action is necessary.” It also said those making the hoax report should bear responsibility, not the government.

At least two swatting-related deaths have been reported in the U.S. A Tennessee man died of a heart attack in 2020 while a Kansas man was shot by an officer who responded to a swatting call in 2017.

Mackenzie’s bill makes it a felony should anyone be injured when police respond to a swatting call. A bill description said the felony charge and punishment are necessary and will be a warning to those who think about making a hoax 911 call.

“The very nature of these swatting incidents creates the high risk that violence will occur and someone answering the emergency call may get hurt,” said Mackenzie. “My bill would ensure significant criminal penalties are in place to serve as a deterrent to anyone thinking about taking part in this malicious and dangerous conduct.”

For Keefer, her bill allows a court to tell a swatter that they have to reimburse state and local police agency that responds to a swatting call. “The blue line is already stretched thin enough and we cannot afford to have police officers chasing phantom calls and exhausting valuable resources at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said.

The bill package received support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

“In December of 2023, the U.S. saw over 200 incidents of swatting targeting Jewish institutions, 12 of which took place in Philadelphia in one day to try to instill fear in our local community,” Scott Kerns, the organization’s community security director, told DVJournal. “In the entirety of 2023, there were 998 incidents of swatting or false bomb threats, up from 115 in 2022, a staggering 768 percent leap. We encourage local Jewish institutions and community members to review Federation’s security resources to learn more about the security trainings and resources available to them.”

Several states, including Ohio and Virginia, increased penalties against swatters. There’s also been a push to make swatting a federal crime. The Federal Bureau of Investigation created a database last year meant to help local and state police investigate swatting calls.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or