LYNDEN, Wash. — Law enforcement were dispatched to a bank branch in Lynden about 9:30am, Friday, September 9th, due to a report of an armed robbery. According to unconfirmed law enforcement radio reports at the time, a staff member inside the branch called 911 to report a subject with a weapon in the branch.
The caller said the subject left the branch on foot while officers were responding.
When officers arrived and spoke with branch staff, they were told no crime had been committed and no one there had called 911. The caller’s name given to 911 call receivers was the same as a staff member at a different branch in a different county. It was determined no crime had been committed at that branch either.
Subsequent radio reports indicated this was believed to have been a false report, also known as swatting.
A Washington State anti-swatting law was signed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2020 that sets different punishment levels based on the outcomes and intents of a false report. The most severe is makes this a class B felony and comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The legislature recognizes that false reporting laws criminalize the knowingly false reporting of certain occurrences that are likely to cause unwarranted evacuations, public inconvenience, or alarm. Recently, however, false reporting and the 911 system have been weaponized, resulting in serious dangers and even lost lives. The term “swatting” describes the false reporting of an emergency with the goal of having a police unit or special weapons and tactics team deployed. The reckless act of swatting, often motivated by the perpetrator’s bias towards protected classes, has caused death and trauma in some cases. As such, the legislature finds that a gross misdemeanor is insufficient as a legal response and hereby create[s] felony false reporting punishments when the false reporting leads to injury or death. Revised Code of Washington “False Reporting” 9A.84.040 footnote (2020)