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Public defender's office says swatting bill can lead to 'coercive atmosphere'

Rob Byron

The state public defender’s office is opposing a bill that would increase penalties for people who call in a fake emergency to law enforcement in hopes of causing a large response from first responders, also known as “swatting.”

The bill, HB462, which received another hearing Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee, would make it a third-degree felony for someone to engage in swatting. That penalty would jump up to a first-degree felony if someone is injured or killed in response to the fake emergency.

Niki Clum, legislative policy manager for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, said Ohio already has several laws in statute that address swatting — such as inducing panic, making a false alarm, felonious assault, involuntary manslaughter.

“And there's a lot of problems when you start just slightly changing the words in statutes and creating overlapping statutes,” said Clum.

She said an additional law against swatting can allow prosecutors to pile up the charges, which could make a plea deal appear more enticing.

“We want things to be simple. We want the prosecutors to bring the case and if the defendant is guilty, prove their case. But by creating statutes that are just slightly different, that creates a different situation where now they're stacking charges and it becomes a very coercive atmosphere for the defendant,” Clum said.

Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) is a sponsor of the bill that creates a swatting charge. He and other supporters have noted that the act of calling in a fake emergency has been a growing trend in the gaming community and on social media.

Miller said his bill will send a strong message that swatting “will not be tolerated in Ohio. Those who choose to put Ohioans and our first responders in harm’s way for no reason, will finally face a penalty commensurate with their harmful actions.”

The House bill received a third hearing on Tuesday.

Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Township), chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said members of the House Republican caucus planned to meet on Tuesday in order to gauge if there’s enough support for the bill to move it forward.

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