Rep. Adams and the Politics of SWAT-ting Calls
Last month Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to look into the SWAT-ting of conservative bloggers. Eighty-six other members of Congress co-signed the letter (all of them Republicans) but so far there has been no response from the DOJ.
Rep. Adams is a former law enforcement officer who spent 17 years as a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Florida. Last week we spoke with Rep. Adams by phone and she explained some of the reasons this is a such a high priority issue for her. "I have been to numerous 911 calls" she explained, adding "I've been there when someone has been shot." Because of her personal experience as a cop on the beat, the idea of sending police to a home based on a false murder report, i.e. SWAT-ting, is something she finds especially dangerous.
As Rep. Adams explained in her letter to the DOJ, SWAT-ting endangers the community in three specific ways. First, police who've been called to a murder scene are in a hurry to get there. They believe a life is on the line which means they are going to be racing to the scene, lights on, sirens blazing. While this is entirely appropriate, it is always dangerous. Police may be forced to bypass red lights, exceed speed limits and other activity that can lead to accidents involving officers and other vehicles or bystanders. Neither the officers nor the public should be put at risk for a hoax.
Secondly and most obviously, SWAT-ting calls represent a real risk to the unsuspecting target of the calls. When police are called to the scene of a "murder" by someone they believe is armed with a gun, they are going to be prepared to defend themselves. Fortunately, no one has been hurt in the SWAT-ting calls thus far, but the danger that a sudden move could be misinterpreted and lead to a shooting is real.
Finally, officers diverted to respond to a fake 911 call are not available to respond to a real one. This means that someone else may not be getting the life saving attention they need because resources were busy or delayed by a hoax.
There's also the political issue. The recent spate of SWAT-ting calls have all been aimed at conservative bloggers in a clear attempt to chill public discourse. "People are being targeted for using their first amendment rights," Rep. Adams explained, "People should be able in our country, people with differences of opinion, to speak freely. That's what makes this country so great. It should not be happening to anyone."
However, because the people behind the calls are using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), it's not as easy to identify who is behind them as it would be with land lines or even cell phones. We asked Rep. Adams if state police have the technological savvy to track down the source of these calls. She noted that all states have the ability to seek assistance from the federal government, especially when there is reason to believe the illegal behavior took place across state lines.
So that's where this investigation stands. Attacks on the free speech of conservatives could be quickly resolved with federal help, but so far that help is not forthcoming. It probably doesn't help the situation that Rep. Adams and the other signatories to the letter voted to hold the Attorney General in contempt last week. It seems clear that politics motivated the SWAT-ting calls and, at least for the moment, politics may interfere with holding the perpetrators accountable.