Gov. Youngkin signs “swatting” bill at E.C. Glass High School

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 10:41 PM EDT
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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - “In a time when our police and our emergency personnel are more vital than ever, we’re going to describe this activity like it should be, a crime, and penalize like it should be,” said Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

In the fall, Lynchburg public safety organizations approached Delegate Wendell Walker, the Republican representing Virginia’s 23rd District, about the impact that false threats have had on their operations.

Swatting has been a problem for nearly a decade now. It’s specifically when people call in false threats that will prompt a response from SWAT teams. hence the name. It’s dangerous for everyone - officers responding to what they believe to be a life-threatening situation like with a gun or bomb - and of course the victims who have no idea armed officers are outside their doors.

Walker brought HB 1572, to the General Assembly in January to strengthen the penalties. When he spoke to elected officials, he had recently learned E.C. Glass High School was on lockdown for what ended up being a false threat.

“When I addressed the committee members and the General Assembly, the subcommittee, I said, ladies and gentlemen it’s with a heavy heart that I come to you today. And that’s the reason this bill is so important,” said Walker.

Though the bill has been signed into law, Governor Glenn Youngkin felt it was important to also sign it inside the E.C. Glass gym, a place where multiple false threat calls have happened this school year.

“The last thing we need to do is have our emergency responders showing up at schools and universities, thinking that there is a real threat when there’s not,” said Youngkin.

In Virginia, a “swatting call” now could lead to jail time, and if convicted, the person could also be responsible for paying the fee for the emergency responders that were dispatched.

“It becomes a felony if somebody is injured, a class six, or a class five, if death is resulted in that. So when you look at this, and you think about what is going to be the result of calling in a bomb threat, it’s going to be severe and that’s the way to send the message,” said Walker.

Walker and Youngkin highlighted it took a strong bipartisan effort to get the bill passed.

“We can come together on something that I think is really important, which is penalizing swatting as a crime, and not just a prank phone call, it gives one hope. But also we need more common sense in the room because we’ve got a lot more work to get done in order to make Virginia even better,” said Youngkin.