DENVER — Colorado lawmakers could make it a felony to falsely report an active shooter.
It comes as law enforcement across the state deal with what officials describe as a disturbing and dangerous prank known as swatting.
Swatting occurs when someone calls in a fake emergency to get the police to rush to a particular location.
Kevin Klein, the director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says over 60 swatting incidents have occurred in Colorado since January 2022.
He says 51 of those incidents targeted schools.
Klein says 41 swatting incidents have occurred in 2023, including on February 22, when Boulder High School and 28 other schools were targeted.
Klein shared the figures as he testified in favor of SB23-249 before the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee.
Anna Craig, a student at Denver’s East High School, also testified in favor of the bill.
On September 19, 2022, East High School was targeted in a swatting incident.
Investigators say someone falsely reported an active shooter at the school, sending students into lockdown and officers scrambling.
Craig told lawmakers she still feels traumatized months later.
She shared details from that day.
“About 30 minutes into the lockdown my teacher turned on the news. We watched as SWAT teams escorted our friends out of their classrooms,” said Craig. “At that moment, you don’t know it’s a drill. You think you’re going to die.”
Craig said another reason she and other students at East felt scared was because of an actual shooting that had taken place near campus less than two weeks prior.
In February of this year, an East High School student, Luis Garcia, was shot just yards from campus. He died from his injuries a couple of weeks later.
In March, two faculty members were shot by a 17-year-old student.
State Senator Kevin Van Winkle, R-Douglas County, is among a group of lawmakers pushing to make falsely reporting an active shooter a felony.
“It’s an incredibly harmful prank and something that is incredibly dangerous,” said Van Winkle. “One of the things we're hoping to do is by creating a felony offense will raise awareness and deter it from ever happening again.”
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office said just one swatting incident can cost taxpayers $100,000.
That’s money spent on police resources responding to the call and disruption to the school day.
The Colorado Criminal Defense Bar is against the bill.
“This bill will further criminalize minors and using the juvenile justice system to address fear and trauma in minors is simply counterproductive,” said Tristan Gorman, who testified against the bill on behalf of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
The bill, which is sponsored by Van Winkle, State Sen. Jeff Bridges (D-District 26), State Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-District 59), and State Rep. Gabe Evans (R-District 48), passed the Senate by a vote of 35-0 and now heads to the House for consideration.
A hearing on the bill has been scheduled for the House Education Committee on Thursday.
In 2018, lawmakers made it a misdemeanor to falsely report a bomb threat.
The charge can be upgraded to a felony if someone dies or is injured.