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'Swatting' bill passes 1st Senate hearing amid state, local effort

April 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's a new push at state and local levels to crack down on the practice of swatting, in which a fake emergency is reported, typically at the home of a celebrity.

To crack down on these hoaxes, state Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance introduced a bill in the Senate on Tuesday that passed its first policy hearing.

Lieu's Senate Bill 333 is supported by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. It would crack down on anyone who calls 911 to report a false emergency, and those convicted would be held liable, or their parents in the case of juveniles, for all costs associated with the response by law enforcement. Swatting calls are estimated to cost around $10,000 per incident.

Placing a hoax call to police is already a misdemeanor that can earn an offender up to a year behind bars. The bill would make it easier to charge a suspect with a felony instead of misdemeanor.

SB 333 now faces review by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lieu's office says a hearing date has not been set.

Locally, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz was expected to introduce a motion during Tuesday's City Council meeting which would, among other things, look into offering rewards to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of swatting perpetrators. His proposal is still at least a month away.

Not only are officers and lawmakers worried about the financial cost and waste of resources, there is also concern over the very real possibility someone could be severely injured as a result.

"I think people thought it was just a harmless prank, but now that it's happening more and more, we're starting to realize this actually could be very dangerous," Koretz said. "There may also be real situations which people take as a prank and start to respond less aggressively."

So far there has only been one arrest made in these swatting incidents. In December, an unnamed 12-year-old boy was blamed in a series of swatting incidents that targeted Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher.

Comedian Russell Brand is the latest celebrity to be targeted. Police responded just after 4 p.m. Monday to a report of a man with a gun at Brand's Hollywood Hills home. The comedian left the home 30 minutes before the call.

Just last week there were four similar swatting calls. The first involved the San Fernando Valley home of rapper Sean Combs, followed by Rihanna's Pacific Palisades residence. Friday police responded to Selena Gomez's house after a fake murder was reported. Two hours after that, there was a report of shots fired at Justin Timberlake's Hollywood Hills home.

The term swatting refers to the fact that SWAT teams often times respond to these false emergency calls.

The LAPD said it will no longer automatically send in a SWAT team and will instead send a couple of patrol cars to investigate the call first.


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