Professionalism/The Swatting of Andrew Finch

IntroductionEdit

On December 28th, 2017, Andrew Finch, 28, was fatally shot by Officer Justin Rapp. Police were called to Finch's Wichita, Kansas home as a part of a swatting event initiated by two internet gamers, Casey Viner and Shane Gaskill.[1] After the two became embroiled in a dispute over Call of Duty, Viner contacted twenty-five year old Tyler Barris, 25. Barriss then called the Wichita police department and reported a violent crime. He insisted police go to what Barris and Viner thought to be Gaskill's home address. When police arrived at the scene, they found Andrew Finch and his family.[1] Police say Finch was reaching for his waistband when they shot and killed him. The bullet from Rapp's AR-15 hit his heart and right lung.[2] Finch was later found to be unarmed. [3]

Barriss, who used voice-over-IP to contact the police, reported that he had killed his brother, taken his family hostage, and was going to burn the house down. The police who arrived on the scene were not trained to handle hostage situations.[4]

Tyler BarrissEdit

Tyler Barriss is a 25-year-old man from Los Angeles, California. He had served 16 months in prison prior to the incident. At the time of his arrest, he was wanted in various states and Canada for charges relating to false bomb threats and harassment. He was arrested on December 29th for the fatal hoax on Andrew Finch.[5] Barriss had a history of making false claims to police on behalf of others but declined to reveal how much he was paid.[6]

On December 28th, he contacted police using voice-over-IP from the free WiFi in the Los Angeles library.[7] He was routed through the Wichita City Hall which gave police the impression the call was local. He described to police how he had shot his brother in the head, was holding his mother and sister hostage, and was going to burn the house down with all of them inside. On November 13, 2018, he pleaded guilty to 51 charges. Included in those charges were false bomb threats to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On March 29, 2019, Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison. [8]

AftermathEdit

New legislation has been proposed for stricter punishments for swatting.[9] Residents of Wichita have asked for more transparency about the shooting. The Finch family expected Officer Justin Rapp to be prosecuted more harshly. In January 2018, they filed a lawsuit against the City of Wichita. Andrew Finch's mother, Lisa Finch, has advocated for police transparency and accountability.[10] Lisa Finch says the family still suffers as a result of the shooting. In January 2019, Finch's 18-year-old niece, who was present at the time of his shooting, shot herself in the head. Her family attributes her suicide to Andrew Finch's shooting. After her death, her boyfriend committed suicide too.[11]

TechnologyEdit

 
An illustration of the process of tracking down a swatter.

Swatters often use a technique called doxing in order to find the address of their target. Doxing is the act of collecting personal information of a specific individual from public databases and publishing these details to the public. [12] Once these details have been published, this individual may be targeted with methods of harassment like swatting. Swatting is enabled by digital tools that disguise the caller's location. This makes it very difficult to track a call's source. To mask their true locations, they use voice over-IP (VoIP) numbers that appear to be in the same area code as their intended victims. [13] They also use virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxies in order to further obfuscate their location. Tracking these swatters is extremely resource-intensive and time-consuming. Ben Finley, a Sergeant at the Johns Creek Police Department in Atlanta, estimates that tracking these swatters can take more than a thousand hours and can cost police departments $100,000 per incident.[13]

A lot of the IP addresses that were generated through the subpoena and court order process were from virtual private networks and proxy sites all over the world. Tracking them down was a hell of a task.

—Ben Finley, a Sergeant at the Johns Creek Police Department[13]

Many victims of swatting and other cyber crimes claim that law enforcement don't have the expertise to deal with these types of situations. The Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act of 2016 was a proposed measure to allocate $20 million a year to educate local police departments on how to investigate digital threats and prosecute cyber crimes. [14] However, the bill was not enacted into law. [15]

Because at this point, police departments haven't adjusted to the idea that a call they might get from someone warning them of a serious crime might actually just be a prank. The idea that people would actually be so callous as to call the swat team on their perceived enemies is foreign to most, because it's just so heinous.

—mugenhunt, a redditor in response to the question "Why swatting seems so easy and unaccountable" [16]

I’ve heard from many victims of severe online threats who say police departments want to be helpful but aren’t sure how to protect someone who’s been harassed online. It’s not from a lack of will or compassion, they just don’t know how best to proceed.

—Katherine Clark, a congresswoman from Massachusetts [13]

PreventionEdit

Seattle's Opt-In RegistryEdit

The Seattle Police Department has received requests to create a registry where residents concerned about swatting can communicate those concerns to their local 911 Center. Our challenge was to move forward and implement an improved business process while protecting the privacy of the community we serve. To our knowledge, no solution to this problem existed, so we engineered one: enter SMART 911 and Rave Mobile Safety.

—Seattle Police Department[17]

To combat swatting, the Seattle Police Department has launched an opt-in registry system. Seattle residents can create a profile on a third-party data-management service called Rave Facility. In this profile, residents can flag their own residence as a target of false emergency reports. 911 operators who receive reports of critical incidents can verify with Rave Facility if the reported location has been flagged with swatting concerns. These operators will share this information with first responders in order to inform and improve their police response to the incident. [18]

A 911 call taker receives a report of a critical incident. While ensuring first responders are dispatched to that call for service as quickly as possible, the call taker will simultaneously check for whether or not swatting concerns have been registered at that address. If swatting concerns have been registered, this information will be shared with responding officers, who will still proceed to the call. If no location profile exists, officers will still continue to the call.

—Seattle Police Department on Rave Mobile Safety[17]

LegislationEdit

Local and state legislation has been successfully enacted to increase swatting penalties. Kansas passed the Andrew T. Finch anti-swatting bill which imposes a sentence of 10-41 years in prison, depending on criminal history, for swatting calls that result in serious injury or death. [19] California enacted a law to tighten penalties for swatters with possible punishments of imprisonment and fines up to $10,000. [20] New Jersey unanimously passed a bill that upgrades swatting from a third-degree to second-degree crime which carries a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000. [21]

Little traction has been gained on a national scale despite multiple bipartisan attempts to pass federal legislation. The only federal law preventing swatting is the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 (TICIDA) which makes it illegal to display a false caller ID with harmful intentions. [22] However, this law has low sentencing structures so federal prosecutors typically press charges under loosely-fitting statutes including obstruction of justice, access device fraud, interstate threats or extortion, computer misuse, and the malicious conveying of false information.[22]

In 2016, Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act to prohibit invoking law enforcement responses based on false information. [23] While federal law prohibits making false bomb threats and terrorist attacks, it is not illegal to falsely report other emergency situations and this bill sought to close this legal loophole. [24] It never made it out of the House committee phase, and Clark was actually swatted as retaliation for her stance against swatting. [25]

And I was home with my family on a Sunday night, and we saw lots of police lights on a very quiet street that we live on. I eventually went out to investigate. I was afraid something might be happening at a neighbor's house and was - had that moment of terror when I stepped out of my own house where two of my children were in bed and my husband was there and saw police with long guns on our front lawn and our street blocked off with patrol cars.

—Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Congresswoman [25]

Rep. Ron Estes (R-KS) introduced the Preventing Swatting and Protecting Our Communities Act, nicknamed the Finch Memorial Act, to Congress in March 2018 in response to the fatal swatting of Andrew Finch. Like the recently passed Kansas law, this bill sought to increase the punishment for swatting calls that lead to serious injury, with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison for offenders. [26] Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced the Anti-swatting Act on June 5, 2018.[9] The bill is an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, and it enhances the penalties associated with swatting and holds swatters accountable for the costs of unneeded emergency responses.[27] Violators will be fined and imprisoned for up to 5 years. These bills have made some progress in committees, but have yet to reach the House Floor. [28]

What happened in Wichita last week was tragic and absolutely senseless. While it may sound like a prank, swatting is a deplorable act which can have serious and fatal consequences. An innocent man lost his life in Kansas, and police were thrust into a volatile situation all because some deranged person 1,300 miles away wanted to create a spectacle. This has to stop.

—Eliot Engel, New York Congressman [29]

While it is encouraging that local and state governments have successfully implemented anti-swatting measures, federal legislation is needed to increase law enforcement's chances of arresting swatters. [30] Investigations often cross state borders which leads to low arrest rates due to lack of cooperation between jurisdictions with differing swatting laws. A federal law that specifically criminalizes swatting would facilitate prosecution which could significantly deter swatting.[22]

Police AccountabilityEdit

While swatters are undeniably responsible for initiating swatting events, tragedies like the death of Andrew Finch could be avoided if law enforcement exercised more caution before resorting to lethal force. Fatal shootings by police officers came under the spotlight following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri which fueled movements against police brutality such as the Black Lives Matter campaign. [31] Since then, the Washington Post has tracked statistics on police shootings and has found that police kill nearly 1,000 people per year.[32] They report that 46 percent of those killed by police are not armed with guns while 4 percent are unarmed.

The number remains high because the police rules for shooting people don’t change, and police forces tolerate shootings of people armed with weapons that aren’t usually life-threatening to police.

—Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at UC-Berkeley [32]

Most states only require the use of excessive force to be "objectively reasonable" based on the precedent set in the 1989 case Graham v. Connor.[33] Judges and juries have a hard time convicting officers since it is difficult to dismiss the notion that they were acting "reasonably" in extreme circumstances. Other states like Delaware and Tennessee have enacted laws specifying that deadly force may only be used if all other means of apprehension have been exhausted.[33]

Police officers often risk their lives responding to emergencies, but their decisions in these high-stress situations can have other lives at stake. They must exercise great caution with that responsibility to ensure that tragedies like the death of Andrew Finch are avoided.

ConclusionEdit

The swatting of Andrew Finch is an example of the disastrous consequences that can result from a lack of ethical standards and professionalism. Barriss and Viner acted in accord with Plato's Ring of Gyges legend which hypothesizes that any intelligent person able to commit injustices in complete anonymity would do so.[34]

Anonymity has been studied extensively with the rise of the internet and helps explain swatting. Psychologists attribute these types of crimes to the Online Disinhibition Effect which holds that some people will act out more frequently online than they would in person where consequences for their actions are more obvious. [35] However, these online disputes can lead to serious real-life consequences so a further examination of the morality of anonymity and potential solutions for reducing its risks without suppressing freedom of speech is warranted.

The police officers, especially Officer Rapp, are also candidates for behaving unprofessionally in response to Barriss's 911 call. The officers had not been trained in hostage negotiation and were not thoroughly briefed on the details of the supposed crisis. Police officers must hold their profession at high standard to prevent needless fatalities. Training programs aimed at educating law enforcement about swatting and reducing use of lethal force on a national scale are needed.

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b Tyler Barriss, who made fatal swatting call in Wichita, guilty of 51 federal charges - https://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article221616115.html
  2. Autopsy Report - http://kake.images.worldnow.com/library/8dd8f0d7-11f5-4257-b898-c23181c8b6dc.pdf
  3. Wichita officer who killed Andrew Finch in 'swatting' mistake won't be charged - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/wichita-officer-who-killed-andrew-finch-swatting-mistake-won-t-n865626
  4. Wichita Police Department has no policy, specific training on ‘swatting,’ chief says - https://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article192666859.html
  5. PCBPD closed in on swatter before fatal shooting - https://www.newsherald.com/news/20180106/pcbpd-closed-in-on-swatter-before-fatal-shooting
  6. Los Angeles man charged with Calgary swatting incident - https://newsroom.calgary.ca/los-angeles-man-charged-with-calgary-swatting-incident/
  7. It Started as an Online Gaming Prank. Then it Turned Deadly - https://www.wired.com/story/swatting-deadly-online-gaming-prank/
  8. Tyler Barriss pleads guilty to 'swatting' hoax, gets 20 to 25 years - http://www.espn.com/esports/story/_/id/25271573/tyler-barriss-pleads-guilty-gets-20-25-years-swatting-case
  9. a b Anti-Swatting Act of 2019 - https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/156/text
  10. Tragedy again strikes the family of swatting victim Andrew Finch - https://www.kansas.com/news/local/article224258200.html
  11. Swatting victim’s family blames two suicides on deadly hoax as Barriss gets 20 years - https://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article228599274.html
  12. Doxxing and how to protect yourself - https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/consumer/consumer-threat-notices/what-is-doxxing-and-how-to-protect-yourself/
  13. a b c d The terror of swatting: how the law is tracking down high-tech prank callers - https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/15/swatting-law-teens-anonymous-prank-call-police
  14. US bill would train law enforcement to fight online harassment - https://www.engadget.com/2016/03/13/cybercrime-enforcement-training-assistance-act/
  15. H.R. 4740 (114th): Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act of 2016 - https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr4740
  16. Why Swatting Seems so Easy and Unaccountable - https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/3dyd9o/eli5why_swatting_seems_so_easy_and_unaccountable/
  17. a b Protect Yourself from Swatting - https://www.seattle.gov/police/need-help/swatting
  18. Police to Seattle’s techies, streamers: Sign up for our anti-swatting service - https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/10/police-to-seattles-techies-streamers-sign-up-for-our-anti-swatting-service/
  19. Kansas passes 'anti-swatting' bill in light of December police shooting - https://www.pcgamer.com/kansas-passes-anti-swatting-bill-in-light-of-december-police-shooting/
  20. SB-333 Crimes: emergencies: false reporting.(2013-2014) - https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB333
  21. Christie signs tougher swatting law - https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/2015/11/10/christie-signs-tougher-swatting-law/75477026/
  22. a b c Swatting: From Fake 911 Call to SWAT Team Raid - https://www.lawfareblog.com/swatting-fake-911-call-swat-team-raid
  23. Interstate Swatting Hoax Act - https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4057
  24. Clark bill aims to combat dangerous ‘swatting’ hoaxes - https://katherineclark.house.gov/index.cfm/2015/11/clark-bill-aims-to-combat-dangerous-swatting-hoaxes
  25. a b Latest 'Swatting' Incident Keeps Rep. Clark Pushing For Legislation - https://www.npr.org/2018/01/02/575043357/latest-swatting-incident-keeps-rep-clark-pushing-for-legislation
  26. Rep. Ron Estes introduces Finch Memorial Act to increase punishment for swatting - https://www.kansas.com/news/local/article204091654.html
  27. Engel Re-Introduces Anti-Swatting Act - https://engel.house.gov/latest-news/engel-reintroduces-antiswatting-act/
  28. Progress of the Bill - https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/156/all-actions
  29. Wichita swatting death should spur Congress to act, lawmakers say - https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article192646059.html
  30. The Huffington Post: ‘Swatting’ Is Endangering Lives, Aided In Part By A Legal Loophole - https://katherineclark.house.gov/2018/6/the-huffington-post-swatting-is-endangering-lives-aided-in-part-by-a-legal-loophole
  31. Black Lives Matter - https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/herstory/
  32. a b Four years in a row, police nationwide fatally shoot nearly 1,000 people - https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/four-years-in-a-row-police-nationwide-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000-people/2019/02/07/0cb3b098-020f-11e9-9122-82e98f91ee6f_story.html
  33. a b A New Law to Reduce Deadly Police Shootings - https://newrepublic.com/article/147760/new-law-reduce-deadly-police-shootings
  34. Plato: Ethics - The Ring of Gyges https://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Plato/plato_dialogue_the_ring_of_gyges.html
  35. The Online Disinhibition Effect - https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/1094931041291295