Schools hope new Utah law will deter ‘swatting’ calls

Mar 13, 2024, 5:27 PM | Updated: 7:19 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Schools are reacting to a new law taking aim at people who falsely report school shootings.

Gov. Spencer Cox just signed into law HB14, which came after a slew of “swatting” cases in Utah last year that terrorized high schools across the state.

Supporters hope this will help deter those who would falsely report emergencies. But there are limits to what the new law can do.

Hoax calls of shooting threats to Utah schools came from out of the country

‘It was terrifying’

It was quiet at Ogden High School Wednesday afternoon just before classes let out.

Quiet is a good thing. Assistant principal Alma Palmer remembers this time last year when it was anything but.

“Honestly, it was terrifying,” Palmer said, remembering the day in March 2023 when someone reported a shooting at Ogden High, sending students and staff into a panic. “My heart just dropped to the floor.”

It turned out to be a hoax. Other Utah schools were also targeted. That led lawmakers to take aim at those who falsely report active shootings, often referred to as “swatting.”

“That was catastrophic,” said Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, who co-sponsored HB14. It increases penalties for swatters, making it a felony.

Students who do it, according to the law, have to be suspended or expelled.

“We are serious,” Ipson said, “and we will fight it.”

Will it be effective?

But this new law has limits. For example, those school threats in Utah last year were determined to have come from outside the United States.

“It’s going to be hard,” Ipson acknowledged, “but we’ve set the groundwork in place that if it happens in this state, we’re going to go after the people that do it.”

Fake calls, real consequences: The public safety impact of ‘swatting’

Jer Bates with Ogden School District said last year’s shooting scare was traumatic for students and teachers.

“Just because it was a hoax doesn’t mean that it wasn’t harmful,” Bates said.

He supports this new law. So does the assistant principal. Palmer hopes it causes would-be swatters to have second thoughts.

“I hope it’d make people think twice before they do something like that,” Palmer said.

Other school districts also praised the passage and signing of HB14.

“We believe those who threaten schools, even as part of a hoax or prank, should be held accountable for their actions and for all the trauma and lost learning that occurs as a result,” said Seth Sorensen, communications and community relations administrator at Nebo School District. “We appreciate the Legislature and Governor’s commitment to student and educator safety and well-being.”

The new law takes effect May 1.

Cox’s office released a list of 142 bills he signed on Wednesday that were passed in the 2024 legislative session. The total number of bills signed as of Wednesday is 245.

Gov. Spencer Cox signs 142 bills by mculbertson on Scribd

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Schools hope new Utah law will deter ‘swatting’ calls