LONG BEACH – A phenomenon where pranksters call in phony emergencies that elicit a strong police response is being used by video gamers in a twisted competition where their success is based on the level of that response, a suburban New York police commissioner said Wednesday.
The phenomenon is known as “swatting.”
“From what I understand, there is a point system,” said Michael Tangney, commissioner of the Long Beach Police Department in Nassau County.
“The fact that we had such a large response meant additional points for whoever did this,” he said.
Tangney was speaking a day after more than 60 heavily armed officers were dispatched to a home in this oceanfront community outside New York City on what turned out to be a hoax.
A caller using Skype contacted Long Beach police Tuesday afternoon, claiming that he had just killed his mother and brother and was threatening to fire upon first-responders who were sent to the home.
Tangney said the caller, who has yet to be identified, apparently became upset after losing a video game called “Call of Duty” to a teenager living in the Long Beach house.
Officers in SWAT gear surrounded the house and eventually went inside, where they found the teenager wearing headphones, apparently oblivious to the police presence surrounding his home.
The teenager’s mother and brother were found unharmed, and the teen was treated as a suspect.
“When he gets taken out, we don’t know he’s not the shooter. He’s taken down in what we call a felony stop; he’s fully searched and handcuffed,” Tangney said.
“He was what I would describe as the closest thing to being in shock. He was incapable of communicating for a few minutes.”
Police eventually realized they were dealing with a hoax, but Tangney estimated that the cost of the response, which included officers from the Nassau County Police Department and other agencies, was about $100,000.
He added that two Nassau officers suffered minor injuries in a collision en route to the scene.
Detectives have collected the names of people who were playing the game with the Long Beach teenager and are working with Internet providers to obtain additional information about possible suspects.
Tangney acknowledged that the suspected hoaxer could live anywhere.
There have been seven “swatting” incidents in Nassau County since 2011, said police spokesman Kenneth Lack.
Police across the country have been investigating “swatting” incidents for several years.
The phenomenon also has involved several high-profile incidents where SWAT teams were dispatched to the homes of celebrities including Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher.
Last year, Los Angeles police said they would no longer routinely issue news releases or offer immediate confirmation on hoaxes in an effort to discourage the prank callers.