Officials on Long Island say prank "swatting" has become a dangerous trend, and now U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer wants to increase jail terms for those who call 911 with false reports that prompt large emergency responses and waste law enforcement resources and time.
Last week, a hoax sent 200 workers running from a Garden City office building when someone called police to report that a man with a gun was holding hostages inside.
Heavily armed police with K9 dogs searched the office building room by room, floor by floor, and gave the "all clear" shortly before 5 p.m. after encountering nothing suspicious inside.
"It's frustrating. You sit around, figuring what to do next," said Andrew Cooper, a lawyer who was among those forced to stand in a parking lot for hours as police searched for a gunman that didn't exist.
Nassau officials said the incident was the 54th swatting incident on Long Island this year and that it's a dangerous trend that must be stopped.
"You stopped commerce. You upset people. There are victims here," said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.
Many of the swatting calls, like one to Long Beach last year, are linked to online gamers. The callers send police to the homes or offices of competitors either as a joke or for retribution. The calls also use technology that make their 911 calls untraceable.
An investigation by the I-Team earlier this year revealed how frequent -- and how costly -- such hoax calls are.
Schumer is now proposing legislation that would increase jail terms for swatters and require criminals to repay police costs.
"The kind of panic it can sow into residents and workers is just wrong," he said at a news conference Monday.
But catching swatters has proven difficult. So far, an East Meadow teenager is the only person who has been arrested in connection with Nassau County's swatting incidents.
"Something's gotta give," said Cooper. "That's the real danger, it might not be handled properly. That would be terrible."