Thursday night, Wichita, Kansas, Police sent out a SWAT team to respond to a 911 call that a man shot his father and was holding his family hostage in their home.
The telephone call was a lie. There was no hostage situation—but nevertheless a man at the home ended up dead, shot and killed by a police officer at his own front door.
Police right now are being tight-lipped about what actually happened at the home of the dead man, identified by relatives as Andrew Finch, 28, as the circumstances are still under investigation. Police did say they don't believe Finch fired on police officers before they shot him, according to the Wichita Eagle. His family says he was not armed.
It seems likely that this was the outcome of a "swatting" prank that has finally reached its inevitable awful conclusion. "Swatting" is a nasty prank where somebody calls 911 and tells police a violent crime or hostage situation is happening at somebody else's home. Police then show up with weapons to bear and end up terrifying an innocent party who is not doing anything at all. Often times the swatters use tech tools to conceal or change their number so that it appears to be local and credible.
Swatting pranks often have ties to the video gaming community, and that may well be the case here. Though, again, it's still too soon to say for sure, the Eagle reports that the prank may have originated as part of a dispute between Call of Duty gamers. Based on a Twitter fight, it appears one gamer may have given another gamer a false address, that of Finch's family, and that's where the police were sent. Finch's relatives told the Eagle that he didn't play video games, so if these facts are true, he wasn't even a party to this dispute.
Finch's family told the media this afternoon that Finch was not armed and that he had gone to the door to see what was going on yesterday when he saw all the flashing lights. Apparently the family had no idea they were the raid's target. Lisa Finch, Andrew's mother, told the Eagle the police then raided the house after shooting her son. They were all handcuffed and taken to the police station for interviews.
The family is furious not just at the prankster who got Andrew killed, but the police as well:
"What gives the cops the right to open fire?" Finch asked. "Why didn't they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report."
Finch and Hernandez-Caballero said they want to see the officer – identified only as a seven-year veteran of the department – and the person who made the false report held accountable.
No doubt there's going to be a lot of attention on the prank call that sent the SWAT team out to the Finch home, but we absolutely must not forget that it's the police who decided how to behave when they got there.
As far back as 2014 I was warning that the overmilitarization of our police departments helps makes pranks like this become dangerously violent mechanisms that can get out of hand. As I noted back then in response to another game-related swatting prank:
"These reactions are exactly the kinds of things swatters are hoping for. Because the police have developed this reputation for violent, over-the-top reactions to everything, they are actually reinforcing the value of using swatting as a way to torment others."