WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Planes and cars were diverted Friday morning after a hoax call was made to Warwick police, claiming someone was in the T.F. Green Airport garage with a rifle.
While police determined that claim was unfounded, it still prompted a massive response that created major disruptions to Labor Day travel.
These hoaxes are referred to as “swatting calls,” a term that invokes the name of police SWAT teams.
12 News Law Enforcement Analyst and retired R.I. State Police Colonel Steven O’Donnell said false threats have become more popular in recent years and they can be incredibly hard to trace.
“Because the way it can be passed across the internet and the way complaints come in,” he told Target 12. “But police have no other choice but to respond as if it’s real, because the day that they don’t is the day that something really bad can happen.”
But if a caller is caught, they could be charged with a felony.
Fake callers can face five years in prison and fines, according to O’Donnell.
This has been at least the second time police have responded to a false alarm in the last month. On Aug. 8, parts of downtown Providence were locked down after police received a call from a man claiming to have a rifle and pipe bombs.
While SWAT teams searched city hall and the Biltmore Garage, that threat was also unfounded.
Police have not indicated there’s any connection between the T.F. Green and downtown Providence incidents. However, O’Donnell said there’s little doubt that law enforcement is looking to see if they are linked.
“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility it’s the same exact person to elicit that response, so it’s a huge danger and concern for law enforcement,” he added.
While these types of responses keep police busy, O’Donnell said they can also tie up firefighters and EMS.
In these situations, he said they need to be on standby to offer medical attention, and that can make things challenging to respond to real emergencies if they happen at the same time.