On April 4, 2015 the Billerica, Massachusetts police received a call from a suicide hotline reporting a man was inside his home armed with a gun and upset over his failing marriage. Dispatchers attempted to contact the number that made the call to the hotline, and used GPS to confirm the call had come from the area. Officers arrived and were unable to contact anyone inside the home, prompting them to call for a SWAT team, crisis negotiators, and a police helicopter.
As officers arrived they observed two individuals run into a wooded area surrounding the home. A short time later police contacted and detained a 14 year old and a 15 year old in the woods matching the description of the individuals who ran from the scene. After an investigation officers were able to confirm that the call had been a prank, and there was no emergency.
SWATing calls are becoming more frequent into call centers across the country. Using technology to place false requests for service into police call centers outside of the 9-1-1 system poses a major safety concern. It appears in this incident that both dispatchers and police supervisors used due diligence to confirm that the request appeared legitimate. However despite our best efforts no system is perfect. It is important for dispatchers and police supervisors to evaluate each of these calls individually; examine the source of the call, premise history, criminal and in-house history, service provider location and account information, and officer observations to make a determination about an appropriate response.