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New Ohio bill aims to stop active shooter hoaxes and fake emergency reports

 Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser lights
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio State Highway Patrol cruiser lights

Ohio lawmakers have said they want to prevent fake reports of emergencies that cause panic — such as the active shooting hoaxes that took place on Friday — with a bill that would increase penalties for what's known as "swatting."

Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware) is sponsoring that bill to stop swatting — a process internet scammers use by placing prank calls to law enforcement in order to create panic.

“You know somebody is going to get seriously hurt or killed and we need to make sure people quit doing this,” Brenner said.

On Friday, an internet hoax caused panic in eight Ohio schools by making false reports about active shooters on their campuses. Panicked parents rushed to their children's schools and school buildings went into lockdown situations, causing an unnecessarily anxious situation for many people.

Brenner’s bill (SB292) and a companion piece of legislation under consideration in the Ohio House (HB462) would make it a third-degree felony for someone to engage in swatting. If someone is hurt or killed by the fake report, the penalties would increase to a first-degree felony. And the person responsible could also be liable for thousands of dollars in restitution for costs associated with the panic caused by swatting, including the cost incurred by emergency responders while dealing with the hoaxes.

While Brenner's bill would apply in situations like the ones faced by schools last week, he said it would also deal with foolish swatting incidents involving video gamers. That's something that he said has happened in the past.

"They would make a prank call to law enforcement to raid their fellow gamer's houses and then video stream what would happen online," Brenner said.

Brenner said many of the people who have been engaging in this behavior would put their video streams to popular social media sites.

"Young folks think they can become famous by going online, doing something on TikTok or some other social media platform and think that it is innocent. It is not innocent. There are a lot of victims there," Brenner said.

Brenner said he thinks the bill can be passed after lawmakers come back into session in November, before the General Assembly ends its work at the end of this calendar year. He expects the bill will receive bipartisan support.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.