For more than an hour on Saturday, Redwood Lane in Key Biscayne was filled with Village police and special response team officers responding to a report of a barricaded individual. Officers crouched with assault rifles and had their guns drawn, and police cars blocked streets.
“Big old guns, like automatic rifles. And they told me to go back inside, which I swiftly did,” said Lynn Paisley, a MAST teacher who was grading papers at her home across the street. “It was a little bit scary.”
But there was no assailant and no danger. It was a hoax.
A caller stated they were barricaded inside of a Key Biscayne home – the call was traced to an out-of-state phone, officials said.
The tactic has a name: “swatting,” and Police Chief Frank Sousa said it’s a growing problem in the region.
“They’ve had it in Miami Beach, it’s happened in the County,” Sousa said. “It’s the first time it’s happened to us in Key Biscayne.”
Sousa stressed that the residents at the address had no connection to the cell phone call and were fully cooperative with investigators.
“It’s a lot of resources that go into something. We had all sorts of units, negotiators. The County got there very quickly, we were there within seconds.”
The practice has led to criminal charges in other jurisdictions, because of the dangerous use of law enforcement personnel who have no choice but to respond.
“This is a different level of prank,” said Katie Petros, a former Village Council member who lives nearby, and whose husband was told to get back inside his home while police were responding.
Sousa said the case is closed from the department’s perspective because there are no Key Biscayne connections.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.