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Swatting, or the act of deceiving an emergency service into sending a police response team to another person's address in the hope that harm comes to them by police violence. This is relatively frequent in the US (1,000/year in 2019), and occurs in Canada (see below). I am not aware of any incidents in any other countries that involve armed police entering a residence and directly endangering the occupant.

While the US has quite high gun crime, it is "only" 21st in the world according to wikipedia 2020 firearm related death rate and Canada is down at 36 only just above Sweden.

How come swatting exists as a significant problem in the US but occurs nowhere else in the world?

Note on Canada and other countries after comments/answers

There have been comments that the distinction between Canada and the rest of the world is less stark than than that between the United States and the rest of the world. The most famous example of swatting that endangered the life of a specific individual in Canada is the swatting of Clara Sorrenti. In 2019 the Calgary police where warning about it being a phenomena that is frequent enough to create significant risks to public safety and end up costing taxpayers, with numbers like "612 officer service hours were expended in response to swatting calls that occurred in 2019" in Calgary alone. In 2015 a recent event was described as "put[ing] the dangerous prank back in the spotlight" and four examples are given for 2014.

This all sounds quite different from the examples given for Germany, where of all three examples given did not result in anyone being put at risk by armed police officers storming at house. I have had to use google translate, I include those links, the originals are in the answer below:

2015: “Meanwhile, two plain-clothed police officers and two other uniformed police officers with bulletproof vests made sure that my information was correct and that no one in my apartment was in danger,” said Rimpl. His wife was completely intimidated. “Luckily my five-year-old son didn’t notice anything.”

2017: “Swatting doesn’t work here like it does in the USA,” says Huber. In this country, massively armed SWAT teams do not storm a house straight away. “A patrol always stops by here first.” That's why swatting is not so popular in Germany. Until now.

2023: Because the emergency services had to assume a real danger, there was a large-scale operation. Residents had to come out of their house with their hands raised.

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    I suppose others use precise location detection for emergency services requirement, which solves the problem of sending emergency services in the wrong direction.
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 14 at 11:57
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    I don't think swatting is much of a thing in Canada. Not least because there are no dedicated SWAT teams, in the US sense of the term. The incident cited is hardly all that convincing either: she got arrested, is about it. There are incidents of police brutality and there are cases where the police use of force is controversial and leads to death. But they were not, to my knowledge, linked to swatting. Swatting needs to combine both a fake danger claim and an overeager police that leads to escalation. You need to come up with a better detailed case for Canada. Jan 14 at 16:48
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    Careful with those rankings. If we look at absolute values, the US has 4/100k gun homicides putting it with states like Dominican Republic. Canada has 0.73, 5 times less. Sweden, just two ranks lower, is at 0.47, 8 times less. And Sweden is one of the highest in Europe. Most of Europe is in the 0.15 and under, 25+ times fewer than the US.
    – Schwern
    Jan 14 at 20:33
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    @dEmigOd Even many parts of the US have precise enough location information for calls to validate this. The thing is though, there are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons for an emergency call to be coming from an apparently different location than the caller is reporting the emergency at, especially for hostage situations, which are usually what people making a swatting attempt report. Jan 14 at 20:50
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    Seems to me that the simplest way is to edit out the error, just like we would with a spelling mistake. All the answers have gone with explaining why it's a thing in the US, and not bothering to correct the assumption that it is in Canada. I'm not going to write an answer duplicating their work and adding the facts about Canada. Jan 15 at 0:18

3 Answers 3

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Lots of people with lots of guns and not a lot of training nor restrictions, plus lots of gun violence, plus an increasingly militarized police force.

humorous image of guns

Guns. Lots of unrestricted, unregistered guns.

And unlicensed, untrained owners.

As a supplement to Philipp's answer, it's important to understand just how much of an outlier the US is with regard to gun ownership and gun crime. The OP mentions gun homicides by rank and concludes the US is not that different from Canada or Sweden. But the absolute numbers tell a different story.

Highest value in bold. Highest in Europe in italics. Homicide data is from 2020.

Country Region % of Households Per person Homicides per 100k people % Unregistered Notes
US N. America 42% 1.2 4.05 99.7% Regulations
Montenegro Europe ? 0.39 1.91 58% Highest gun homicide rate in Europe, < 1 million people
Albania Europe ? 0.12 1.43 81% 2nd highest gun homicide rate in Europe
Malta Europe ? 0.28 0.78 19% 3rd highest gun homicide rate in Europe, < 1 million people
Canada N. America 15% 0.34 0.73 84% Regulations
Sweden Europe 16% 0.23 0.46 15% 4th highest gun homicide rate in Europe Regulations
Italy Europe 12.9% 0.14 0.17 77% Regulations
Finland Europe 38% 0.32 0.09 14% Regulations
Germany Europe 12.5% 0.20 0.06 63% Regulations
Switzerland Europe 29% 0.28 0.10 66% Regulations

I've included the ranks to show even the highest outliers in Europe don't come close to the US. For completeness I've even included tiny countries like Malta and Montenegro which have less than 1 million people, but they're hardly representative of Europe.

Compared to Europe and Canada, even the outliers, the US has...

While individual countries come close in individual areas, only the US has this combination.

If the police visit a home in the US, there is an almost coin-toss chance that home has guns. An unknown number of guns of an unknown type with likely an unlicensed, untrained owner.

The militarization of US police

Traditionally, the US police were not a paramilitary unit. A few spectacular incidents in the 60s, 70s and 80s (ex. the North Hollywood Shootout) lead some departments to maintain a special Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) to deal with particularly heavily armed suspects (glossing over a lot of history there), but your average officer was not covered in tactical gear nor trained on assault weapons and tactics; threat of violence was not the first choice.

Then in the 80s came the War On Drugs and 9/11 brought the War On Terror. These events lead to increased cooperation between the US Federal government and local police; anti-drug and counter-terrorism laws relaxed the restrictions on police giving them easier access to violent options, and US Federal money and military hardware is transferred to local police. Local police were now well-armed, and expected to deal with terrorists and violent, well armed gangs.

Conclusion

Which brings us to the current state of policing in the US today where threat of violence is often the first choice. Lots of homes with guns. Lots of police with guns. Police training increasingly focused on use of force. These are among the reasons why US police are more likely to treat a household as potentially armed and dangerous and respond to a call with a SWAT team.

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    Good points in what I think is the best answer on this question so far. It is however missing a minor point about accountability, judicial review, and qualified immunity. And seems to miss a sentence to bring it all back together to actually answer the question e.g. "In the US swatting has a significantly different effect than it does in other countries, while in Canada it can be seen as a cultural export of the US, due to the cultural and geographical proximity"
    – Peter
    Jan 15 at 0:09
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    +1 Neo! Excellent to mention the North Hollywood Shootout. At that time, the intervening police did not have the necessary heavy weapons to take the 2 bank robbers. Hadn't happened before, ever. Now every small town needed its own SWAT studs! Even before then US was over the top compared to Canadian or European cops. In 1994 as a tourist I ended up with guns pointed at me for not stopping and not having lights on at dusk. I just didn't get a cop car 10+ car lengths behind me had anything to do with me. Euro cops would have tailgated with their lights, easy. US cops are paranoid as eff Jan 15 at 4:14
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    @user48650 Switzerland is a less interesting data point than you might imagine. In terms of guns per capita it's lower than Finland and Canada, and has a lower percentage unregistered guns than Canada. So far as I can tell, It's a less remarkable data point than other data points that are included in the table, by any metric I've found data for.
    – James_pic
    Jan 15 at 10:14
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    @user48650 Switzerland is an odd duck here. Military service is still mandatory for young men, and at the end of military service one may opt to keep their rifle at home, and therefore many men have an automatic rifle at home. The main difference with the US, however, is that (1) those are registered and (2) said men do not have the ammunitions, which are strictly kept by the military. So lots of powerful guns in theory, sure, but a gun without ammunition is just a clumsy club. Jan 15 at 10:32
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    @Bobby: I believe Finland may be somewhat similar. A lot of hunting rifles there, due to potentially dangerous wildlife (mooses AND white bears). Hunting rifles are quite different from handguns or military rifles in that they generally have only one or two shots in them. Jan 16 at 8:08
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As the answer by o.m. explains, this is no longer a phenomenon that is exclusive to the United States.

The reason why it works so well in the United States in particular, is a police force that is both very well armed and able and willing to respond to emergencies.

Other developed countries have police that will respond to emergency calls in a much less aggressive manner. They can afford to, because other developed countries don't have a firearm in 42% of all households. Shootings are much less common, so police officers will usually not approach every situation with the expectation that someone will draw a gun and shoot them. So kicking in the door with drawn submachine guns will be their last resort, not their first response. They won't do that when their only reason to assume that the suspect might be armed and dangerous is some anonymous call.

There are of course countries with similar or even higher levels of gun violence. But most of those have a police that is much less well-funded and well-organized than the average US police department. Or have already lost all control over some regions to more or less organized crime. Which means they will often not respond to emergency calls as quickly or at all.

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    The point I tried to get across in the question is the fact that in Canada shootings are not much more common than in Europe, but swatting in that the victim is at risk of police violence exists in Canada but not Europe. This seems to indicate that it is not solely the rate of gun violence that is the difference.
    – User65535
    Jan 14 at 13:29
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    I think you could go into more detail with your statements by showing examples of one officer at the scene has the situation control, another shows up and almost immediately shoots and kills the suspect, and the initial officer gets punished for not shooting the suspect sooner. An example is an officer who didn't shoot and kill a suicidal suspect was fired for not doing it. cnn.com/2017/05/11/us/wv-cop-fired-for-not-shooting--lawsuit/…
    – Joe W
    Jan 14 at 16:12
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    If anything Canadian controversies sometimes trend the other way, when police are killed due to not having been sufficiently prepared. Police has little day to day reason to expect deadly intent from members of the public. This is, again, not to claim that Canadian police doesn't get criticized for excessive use of force, up to people getting killed. Only that it rarely happens in a swatting context. Jan 14 at 17:38
  • kicking in the door with drawn submachine guns will be their last resort, not their first response — do they actually do that outside of movies?
    – gerrit
    Jan 15 at 9:17
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    @gerrit Yes, that actually happens in the United States.
    – Philipp
    Jan 15 at 10:22
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As absolutely as you state it in your premise, the premise is wrong. Swatting does happen in other countries. It may well be that it happens more often in the US, or that US media is more likely to report incidents, or that incidents in the US are more likely to become dramatic and newsworthy.

In , there has been the case of an abrasive youtube personality whose swatting made the back pages of nationwide media. In crime statistics, swating gets no separate entry. It might be prosecuted as part of §145 StGB, which also covers the destruction of warning signs and rescue equipment (like lifebuoys at the riverside). This makes finding swatting statistics difficult.

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    I had not heard about this. Is this the correct story? It sounds very different from the NA ones, and does not sound like it put the victim in significant danger "In Germany, there will be no military gear cops kicking in you door guns drawn, but it caused huge chaos. Dozens of emt and police cars showed up because of a gas leak report."
    – User65535
    Jan 14 at 12:40
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    @User65535, that's a different one. Swatting does happen from time to time, and it is dangerous in Germany, too. It just seems less dangerous because of different cultural expectations on the use of force by police.
    – o.m.
    Jan 14 at 17:24
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    Too much "may" and "might" and no citations. The one case cited in Germany might be the exception that proves the rule.
    – Schwern
    Jan 14 at 20:25
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    You really need to add some sources. Being from germany, I cannot remember any case of swatting as it would be understood in the US. Yes, you can call the cops on someone else, and yes, thats a nuisance -- but thats not swatting.
    – Polygnome
    Jan 15 at 0:46
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    @Schwern, three examples. That's more than one exception, less than the wave in the US.
    – o.m.
    Jan 15 at 5:39

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