GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police in Grand Rapids are warning the public of the effects of false emergency calls.
Recently, Holiday Inn and Happy Cat Cafe in downtown Grand Rapids were both victims of “swatting” — when someone calls 911 to falsely report a large-scale, serious crime happening at a specific place.
A spokesperson for the Grand Rapids Police Department said these types of calls tie up police and emergency responders and create confusion around the reported location, which leads to rumors and misinformation being spread online and throughout the community.
“What that creates for us is a large-scale response,” said GRPD Captain P.J. Baker. “Patrol comes from all over the city to start working out the scene or this incident. The folks at these businesses or running these businesses have no idea the police have even been called.”
At the Happy Cat Cafe, a birthday party was going on in the cat room at the time.
“The police actually called our barista … and asked if there was a shooting … The director of the rescue we partner with, she was actually on her way in with two cats and there was armed officers out there with their rifles out, you know, due to the severity of the call,” explained general manager Anthony Quarto.
It’s unknown if the same person made both recent swatting calls, which were about active shooters, but police say they can cause a chain of copycat activity. They warned people to be aware of more possible calls. Businesses should take them seriously until they are proven false, GRPD said.
“The staff at the downtown Holiday Inn, one of the recent victims, did a very good job of communicating factual information to first responders and to their guests/customers in a timely manner to calm fears and return to business as usual shortly after the call was proven to be false,” said a GRPD release. “This is an opportunity for local businesses to review (or prepare) their emergency response plans, including how to respond if a false report is made.”
As for the community, police say to get information from sources like local news outlets and the city’s emergency alert system, which you can sign up for at the Grand Rapids website. They also warn not to spread unsubstantiated rumors, especially ones that could cause panic.
Anyone with information on recent swatting calls should contact the Grand Rapids Police Department at 616.456.3380 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
— News 8’s Taylor Morris contributed to this report.