If this keeps up, some innocent person is going to get killed.

That’s because “swatting” has come to Maine.

As this paper reported Tuesday, a false emergency call was made to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office on Sunday night.

The caller claimed to be someone at the home of Ryan Lent in Standish, saying he had just shot his girlfriend and was holding her parents hostage.

Of course, officers arrived in force. They handcuffed the Lents in front of their crying children, forcing them to the ground in their front yard.

After police determined there was no emergency, Ryan Lent was remarkably understanding, saying he thought police responded appropriately and demonstrated “a lot of guts to pull up to a house to respond to that.”


That’s undoubtedly true, and everyone involved can be thankful no one was hurt, but the potential for tragedy in similar situations is extremely high.

“Swatting” comes from the common police practice of using heavily armed and armored Special Weapons and Tactics teams to respond to such calls, as you would expect them to do, given the violent nature of the reported situation.

Incidents go back a decade or more, and some jurisdictions are tightening their laws to deal with perpetrators, who include computer-savvy callers adept at “spoofing,” electronically fooling 911 systems to link the calls to the victim’s phone number.

While some stories call them “pranks” or “jokes,” they are nothing of the sort. Though criminals in hostage situations may expect the police to show up, unsuspecting homeowners commonly do not.

Indeed, they may not think the people pounding on their doors are police at all, but crooks yelling out lies to get them to open up.

And Maine is a state where home invasions are common. Indeed, there was one in Standish in April 2012, when three armed men falsely claiming to be federal drug agents entered the house of Wendy Turner, where five adults and a 6-year-old girl were present, and stole prescription drugs.


The neighboring town of Gorham was subject to one this past April, in which three men from Portland were arrested for breaking into a Main Street house while armed.

Similar incursions took place in Portland in April (a man armed with a knife entered a North Deering home and assaulted the resident); in Casco in March (an intruder physically beat a resident); in Saco in December (a man shot his wife and another man after entering the man’s house); in Portland in December (a resident was hospitalized after invaders beat him); and in Poland in December (six people were arrested and the resident was treated for a head injury).

And that’s just the start of the list.

So, when police pull up to a darkened house in the middle of the night and start pounding on the door, a sleepy, confused and frightened occupant could begin shooting in what he or she might justifiably consider self-defense.

That happened in January in Sentinel, Oklahoma, where a man with a grudge used his victim’s name to tell police he had planted a bomb at a preschool. When officers arrived at the victim’s house, the police chief was shot several times in the chest by the frightened homeowner.

Fortunately, police did not return fire and the chief’s protective vest deflected the bullets. The homeowner was not charged with a crime.


But the equation of fear works the other way, too. While nearly all officers are professional enough not to shoot unless they or others are in demonstrable danger, the hazard exists that under stressful conditions, an innocent resident could be wounded or killed by a careless or unintentional gunshot from an official weapon.

Kevin Kolbye, assistant special agent in charge in the FBI’s Dallas office, said in a 2013 report posted on the agency’s website: “It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously injured as a result of one of these incidents.”

He noted that a police officer was injured in a car accident responding to a swatting incident, and some unsuspecting victims have suffered mild heart attacks.

Each false alarm can cost departments thousands of dollars, Kolbye said. There are no national statistics on how many swatting incidents occur annually, but he surmised that there are hundreds.

While there’s no easy solution to this problem, both police and private citizens have to be aware they both are the swatter’s targets.

Though it may not be possible to sort out real incidents from hoaxes without large-scale intervention, it falls to the police, who are the professionals in this equation, to exert extreme care not to create real victims out of innocent civilians, including treating them with a severity they do not deserve.

And when swatters are found, they deserve good, long stretches in the Graybar Hotel.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:


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