Prank reveals fatal police fail

A call about a fake emergency in Kansas led a SWAT team to the home of Andrew Finch, who was then shot and killed by an officer after he walked out of his front door. The hoax was part of a prank known as “swatting” and Finch was an innocent man.

Kade Crockford of the Massachusetts ACLU focuses on privacy, technology and policing and she joined Salon’s Alyona Minkovski on “Salon Now” to discuss the problem.

“There’s a reason why swatting is such an effective tactic,” Crockford said. “It’s because police departments across the country have, largely in the dark, militarized to the extent that they are really hair-trigger ready to be deployed by a malicious actor like this in a prank that, unfortunately in Kansas, ended in someone’s death.”

Many headlines have focused on the “deadly prank” or coverage of the suspected prankster, but police culpability is also a critical part of the conversation. “We have to ask as a society, what are we doing or not doing at a systemic level that enables these kinds of mistakes to take place?” Crockford said.

Most SWAT raids do not get this kind of national attention. They predominantly happen in low-income, minority communities and are part of the broader war on drugs. The ACLU conducted a study of SWAT raids across the country and found that 80 percent were simply to serve warrants.

The FBI doesn’t require police departments to compile statistics on “swatting,” but the agency told The Verge in 2013 that it estimates there are an average of 400 incidents a year. Celebrities like Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne and Miley Cyrus have often been targets, and in many instances, including the Kansas case, the pranks originate from disputes among online gamers.

To hear more from Crockford, watch the video above. Tune into SalonTV's live shows, "Salon Talks" and "Salon Stage", daily at noon ET / 9 a.m. PT and 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT, streaming live on Salon, Facebook and Periscope.

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