DES MOINES — The commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says at least 30 school districts received swatting calls Tuesday morning, including in Mason City, Clear Lake and Charles City. Those are calls where someone reports a shooting to get police to respond.
DPS commissioner Stephan Bayens says the first call came into Clinton and they were able to determine what happened. “Immediately our Division of Intelligence was monitoring, it was taken in ingesting the information, and we’re pushing it out to several thousand law enforcement officers within the first half hour to 45 minutes,” he says. “And then once the additional calls rolled in, we could even more kind of robustly communicate this was likely a swatting event.”
Bayens says Clinton reacted well when the first call came in. “When the balloon went up, so to speak, there were cops from probably five different counties, the State Patrol, anyone and everyone came running,” Bayens says. “And the school from what I understand it a great job of locking the school down, communicating well with the community.” Clinton eventually canceled classes for the day.
Bayens says the calls came in from east to west across the state, so there was a warning for schools as the situation progressed.
“I imagine by the time the call is rolled into central Iowa, I would hazard a guess that almost all of law enforcement in these communities knew what was likely coming. And that way they can take a drastically different response because they know the genesis of it,” he says.
The swatting calls came on a day when Governor Kim Reynolds and Commissioner Bayens had already scheduled a news conference to talk about a new app developed by the Governor’s School Safety Bureau. Reynolds says she was updating on the situation right away and was glad the calls were not real.
“It’s what no Governor, no parent or anybody, Superintendent, teachers kids want to hear. And we’re grateful, and just so thankful that that’s what it was,” Reynolds says. She says it highlights the importance of what the School Safety Bureau is trying to do to keep schools safe.
Commissioner Bayens says it is hard to track these types of calls and they often come from out of the state or country. He says they did follow the same pattern. “Everything in terms of the details are the same, the methodology, the phone number, the voice, the content,” he says. He was asked about the accent of the caller.
“The calls are in English, whether it’s an Iowa accent or not, I guess it depends on I mean, there’s folks from everywhere, so I don’t know what an Iowa accent is anymore,” Bayens says “I can say it’s probably not traditionally what we think is Midwestern and in sourcing, and that’s about all I can say — I’m not a linguist expert, but I can I can at least tell you that.”
Bayens says the calls are designed to draw in law enforcement and create confusion. He says they were able to mitigate some of that by immediately analyzing and determining these were swatting calls.