Deadly Wichita swatting incident changes how police respond to future calls

Wichita police officers responded to a hostage call Monday afternoon, but they soon learned it...
Wichita police officers responded to a hostage call Monday afternoon, but they soon learned it was false.(KWCH)
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 12:01 AM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Hoax emergency calls persist as an issue for police. On Monday, the Wichita Police Department responded to a southeast Wichita neighborhood for a falsely reported hostage situation.

The National Tactical Officers Association says they’ve seen the prevalence of these fake calls drawing large emergency response - often referred to as swatting - decreasing in numbers. Thor Eells, the executive director for NTOA, says the main reason for that is the 2017 deadly swatting incident in Wichita.

“Attention that that received coupled with the aggressive prosecution of that played a large part,” said Eells.

The high-profile swatting calls. resulted in the death of Andrew Finch. Three people have been sentenced for the incident which led up to his death. While it had an impact on deterring other incidents, police are still dealing with them.

On Monday, Sgt. Brian Hightower, with the Wichita Police Department, said someone called Wichita City Hall Security to report they were holding their family hostage and threatened to kill them. While the call sounded fake, and the caller had a British accent, police still treated the call as if it were real.

“It had the pretense of sounding like a false call from the beginning but obviously, we’re going to take every precaution. Ultimately we were able to find the homeowner of the residence and learn it was actually a false call,” Hightower said of the call on Monday.

Eells says tactical training covers responding to a call that could be fake.

“The key to success is determining the validity of this type of call for service lies with the communications centers, your dispatchers, your 9-1-1 operators, as well as your patrol officers and or deputies that are your first responders,” he said.

Eells says a lot of the focus for those first officers on the scene is comparing and contrasting the information from the call and what they’re actually hearing and seeing in person.

“True hostage situations like we might see in Hollywood or on TV, are very, very, very rare. It’s something that has to play a part in your mind,” said Eells.

He says the suspects behind these calls often think technology will hide them, but that’s often what helps to track them down.

Wichita police have a swatting alert form people can fill out if they think they might be a target of a hoax call. It provides information to Sedgwick County Emergency Communication that dispatchers pass on to first responders depending on the nature of the call.

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