Multiple liberty activists responded to the scene after local independent journalist Jared Goodell posted the news that armed police were on Central Square. (Goodell’s personal facebook profile is quickly becoming a go-to destination for breaking news in Keene.) Keene police kept the initial call from the alleged hostage-taker off of their two-way radio system, in what was the beginning of a campaign to preclude the public from actually knowing anything about what was happening in their midst.
All people in the streets knew was the police were hiding behind brick walls, brandishing guns and observing the block of buildings that includes 39 Central Square. To their credit, the Keene police were not preventing people from taking the risk of walking downtown, but they were at the same time not informing anyone about the risk that may have been present.
When asked, multiple pairs of the officers surrounding the building would deny any knowledge of why they were there. Why lie? After I asked three sets of officers what was happening, I finally got the barest minimum of information out of Michael “Pepper” Kopcha. He admitted there may be a situation in the building, but again, gave no information as to what danger may be present.
There are arguments both for and against how they responded, but there’s no good reason to keep people in the dark about what is happening, especially if they want people to believe they are “serving and protecting” them. An argument favoring their response tactics is that you can’t be too careful in a hostage situation and therefore the police responded appropriately. An argument against their tactics is that they had no real intel on what was happening besides the claim of someone on the phone, and as a result inconvenienced everyone in the building as they went room-to-room, floor-by-floor and cleared the premises.
What if the caller wanted to see how police would respond and used the data collected to walk them into a trap next time? What if the caller wanted to distract the police from an actual crime being committed across town? How many officers were available for other calls when nearly twenty were on-scene? Further, what if the caller was actually with the police and made the false call to give police a reason to demand access to peoples’ homes?
The standard explanation is that these “swatting” calls are made by some teenage or twenty-something prankster who just wants to harass the target location. Of course, with adrenaline-fueled cops, these swatting pranks could cost the building’s inhabitants their lives, if, for instance, a trigger-happy cop shoots someone for holding a camera the cop thought was a gun.
The caller in this case, according to the Sentinel, claimed to have hostages, gave a location, demanded money, and hung up. Is that justification for this level of response? What do you think the proper response should be to a phoned-in claim of hostages being held at gunpoint?
Whatever the proper response, the Keene police should inform the people of what is going on rather than putting people at risk from their ignorance.