Law enforcement agencies responded to emergency call late Thursday afternoon in Princeton from a man who stated that he had just shot a woman at a residence in the 1200 block of Meadowview Drive.
The 5:25 p.m. call was classified as a “swatting incident” by Princeton Police Chief Todd Frederick late Thursday night.
Swatting is a criminal harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending police and emergency service response teams to another person’s address.
“This incident appears to be similar to the one that occurred Sept. 1 involving Belle Haven,” Frederick told the Union-Times. “Tonight, we had 20 to 25 officers that were there immediately.”
The Princeton Police Department, Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office, Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol, Princeton Fire Department, and North Ambulance arrived on scene and established a perimeter around the residence just as many residents were coming home from work.
“We made contact with the homeowner, and that person was able to confirm information that led us to believe that this was another swatting incident,” he added.
Given the nature of the emergency call, Frederick and other law enforcement officers decided to clear the house, and go throughout the area, knocking on doors to check on everyone’s welfare.
Frederick said that approximately 20 houses were inside the perimeter sealed by law enforcement.
Special Emergency Response Teams from both counties were merged into a single team, Frederick said.
“When law enforcement began arriving as quickly as it did, we were able to put together a joint S.E.R.T. team composed of members from both county departments,” he explained.
Law enforcement was able to clear the unoccupied residence in question with that team, Frederick added.
“We were able to confirm the home was empty before we made entry,” he explained. “We cleared the house and had that same S.E.R.T. team go door-to-door with other officers and check on the welfare of everyone, making sure that they knew they were safe.”
Frederick reported that Princeton residents were allowed to return to their homes shortly after 9 p.m.
Law enforcement was not able to electronically locate the phone used to make the emergency call.
The incident that occurred Thursday was “very similar” to the Belle Haven incident, Frederick said.
Frederick said swatting incidents are a huge concern for law enforcement because if an event does not involve a true emergency call, situation, person or persons in trouble or need of assistance, officers and other personnel are prevented from responding to those who do need emergency assistance.
“The first concern is the fact that we have law enforcement responding, and they are arriving according to a coded call,” Frederick explained. “We are putting officers and deputies lives’ in jeopardy each time they go out. When you take that many resources and you put them in one spot, your response time to other incidents gets delayed because we have to leave one incident to take care of another.”
During Thursday's incident, Mille Lacs County deputies had an important call that came in, and that required a number of officers being cleared and called away, Frederick said.
That forced Frederick to dispatch the Princeton Fire and Rescue Department and enlist its personnel in perimeter sealing duties.
“This is a problem all over the country. We have to treat every swatting call as real,” Frederick said.
“We are going to investigate this incident just like we are investigating the Belle Haven incident,” Frederick added. “If we find out who did this, we will charge them. This is completely uncalled for.”
Frederick said his department has been working with Sherburne County’s intelligence unit regarding the Belle Haven incident, and will ask for that unit’s assistance with Thursday's incident.
“We will be calling the Federal Bureau of Investigation Friday,” Frederick said. “We are going to do everything we can to find out who this person is. There are things with both incidents that are similar,”
Both swatting incidents remain under investigation by the Princeton Police Department.