Local dispatchers share how they detect a ‘swatting’ call

Mick Stein at work in emergency dispatch in Superior
Mick Stein at work in emergency dispatch in Superior(KBJR)
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 7:14 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 11:14 PM CDT
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SUPERIOR, WI. (Northern News Now) - Anytime someone calls 911, it’s likely one of the worst days of their life.

But a newer trend known as ‘swatting,’ has people prank calling in false emergencies in communities across the country.

Last week several schools in northwest Wisconsin fell victim to swatting calls including Superior High. Northern News Now obtained the audio of that 911 call in Superior.

Superior High School swatting call

“There is a shooter inside the high school, he shot students in the bathroom. I was in the bathroom, the guy came with a gun and he shot the students in the bathroom,” the caller said.

On the surface, that may look like a terrifying emergency call involving a school shooting.

But with more than 20 years of experience, dispatcher Mick Stein sensed something was off.

Starting with it being an isolated call.

“Had that really happened, our phones would have been inundated with 911 calls and we didn’t have any other ones,” said Stein, a dispatcher at Douglas County and the City of Superior.

Stein and his fellow workers at emergency dispatch have been trained to spot swatting calls.

As he listens for information to connect the caller with emergency services, he’s also evaluating what he hears.

“We’re just listening for anything in the background that can help us figure out what’s really happening,” Stein said.

And though this call was later determined to be a false report coming from outside the country.

“We still have to treat it as a possible shooting,” Stein said.

While many people call 911 in the event of an emergency, this particular call was made to a non-emergency number at the Superior Police Department. A possible but not definitive sign it was swatting.

Supervisor Dani Miller said many people call that public line to report emergencies, but this call seemed to jog her memory.

“A couple of months ago, there was another call with the same caller, the same questioning, or the same responses to the questions. And when we asked them that, they said there was a shooting in the school,” said Dani Miller, Communications Center Supervisor

Miller said swatting is a waste of important resources.

“That’s the worst thing that you could do, as a joke for us, make us think we are walking into a situation or dealing with a situation that could potentially be life-threatening,” Miller said.

And for Stein, despite the rise of swatting around the country, he still thinks this is the right job for him.

“I go home every day from work knowing I’ve done some good for my community and help people in my community,” Stein said.

Local dispatchers have received swatting calls for many Northland schools this spring including Denfeld and Esko.

The same day Superior High School was swatted, it happened to Spooner High School in Wisconsin as well.

While swatting calls are illegal in most places, experts say they’re hard to prosecute because most calls originate from outside the country.