Shots were reportedly fired at Lake Mary High School near Orlando.  The Seminole County Sheriff’s Department received an anonymous 911 call reporting an active gunman was in the school. School administrators took immediate action by placing the school on lock down as police responded. The school and sheriff’s department coordinated effectively to neutralize an Active School Shooter (AS) who never existed. 

The immediate school lock down focused on securing students in classrooms as well as relocating students from hallways and public areas prior to first responder arrival.  The rate of Active Shooter Incidents (ASIs) has tripled throughout the United States over the last 5 years. This continual growth in ASI’s led Lake Mary High School administrators to lock down the school without hesitation.

Unfortunately, the time, dedication, effort, and professionalism displayed by school representatives and law enforcement personnel were all for nothing. Shots were never fired. No AS ever existed on school grounds. However, this hoax created fear and turmoil, as well as wasting police resources.

The current norm when a “shots fired at a school” call is received is to create a safe environment in the school. Nothing more valuable than our children! A complete lock down of all students in secure classrooms is a very difficult task. Students were actively running and hiding much like it is recommended in the Run, Hide, and Fight program. Although students did run and were hiding inside and outside of the school, thankfully there was no need for any of the students to fight for their lives. 

The possibility that an AS was on the school premises remained until the school was completely searched and deemed secure. Police confirmed there was no need to Run, Hide or Fight. This incident should not be downplayed as a “hoax.” A false report of a gunman was received.  Police resources must not be abused for an anonymous caller’s amusement.

Students, teachers, staff, and administrators were placed in fear for their lives. This incident was generated by criminal conduct. It was not a practical joke nor is there any amusement in creating fear in the mind of another. Today’s incident was an attempt at completing a prank known as “swatting the police.” Swatting is growing in frequency throughout the United States and is now an emerging trend in Canada as well.

Both countries are experiencing bogus 911 calls requiring an immediate police response. Often a SWAT response is initiated to overcome dire circumstances based on information falsely reported. “Swatters” consider themselves successful when a massive police response is initiated with one or more agencies focused on saving lives when an emergency does not exist.

Each swatter wants to surpass what others have accomplished previously. It is ironic that a swatter thinks much like a potential AS. What is occurring is that a potential swatter is much like a potential AS who reads about the actions taken previously by other swatters.  He then tries to top the last swatting event.   This is known as going for top score.

I believe that Friday’s incident was a swatting. The initial caller remains anonymous and the police have not heard from him since he first reported an active gunman was on school grounds. 

Just as law enforcement must prepare itself today for tomorrow in addressing an ASI or other critical incidents, the new dilemma is overcoming swatters.   Swatting places law enforcement in a must-respond role when no response is necessary.  It is a dangerous game being played which needs to stop.

An investigation into identifying the anonymous caller is the chief task at hand.

To learn more:

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/522317-lake-mary-high-school-shooting-shots-reportedly-fired-in-florida/

http://www.heavy.com/news/2014/02/lake-mary-high-school-lockdown-gunman/

https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com.com/2013/11/26/swatting-the-police-is-not-a-game/

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, IACSP, and FBI – LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.  He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com