A bill that would increase penalties in "swatting" cases — placing false emergency calls in an effort to prompt a police response, often to a celebrity home — passed a California Senate committee Tuesday as the Los Angeles City Council also considered the issue following a series of high-profile cases.
Bill Text: Senate Bill 333
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz introduced a motion Tuesday, asking the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would require offenders to pay restitution for "swatting" cases. The motion asks the attorney to report back in 30 days.
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The cases usually involve celebrity homes, such as Friday's false reports involving the homes of entertainers Selena Gomez and Justin Timberlake.
"These 'swatting' incidents pose a threat to public safety, not only because they tie up much needed LAPD resources, but also because officers responding to these fake incidents have been injured," Koretz's motion stated. "Sources inside the LAPD feel it's only a matter of time before an officer gets killed as a result of a 'swatting' incident."
In Sacramento Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Public Safety approved SB333. The bill proposes penalties — including jail time — for anyone convicted of placing the false report.
The bill advanced to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it will be subject to a fiscal review within a month.
"We've been told by law enforcement agencies that each swatting incident costs between several thousand dollars to, potentially, $10,000 or more," said Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance).
Police responded to Gomez's home in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles on Friday after a caller reported that someone had been killed at the residence. About two hours earlier, police responded to Timberlake's Hollywood Hills home after a false "shots fired" call.
On Thursday, police received several false reports of a shooting and armed robbery at Rihanna's home in the city's Pacific Palisades area. Police descended on Sean "Diddy" Combs' Toluca Lake home on Wednesday after receiving a phony call that there was a shooting in the area.
"They must be brought to justice," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. "And, they must go to jail, which is by we're working with the state legislature to make this a felony."
Lieu's bill calls for a minimum of four months in jail for anyone convicted of filing the false report. The offender also would be liable for police costs related to the response.
SB333 would make the crime a felony if someone is injured during the response. In such cases, the offender could face up to three years in jail.
The current penalty for a false 911 report — a misdemeanor — is up to one year in jail.
The term "swatting" is derived from the acronym for the Special Weapons and Tactics unit. Members are highly trained in military-style weapons and tactics used during barricade-hostage situations and other high-risk operations.
Past "swatting" calls have prompted significant responses, but that was not the case last week.
"During one of the recent cases, rather than sending a bunch of cars up there, we sent one individual who checked with the owner — it was nothing," said LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.
Whitmore and Smith said authorities have improved techniques to detect a call's origin.
"They use a lot of sophisticated computer work to mask where they are," Smith said. "They call from other parts of the country or parts of the state. But we have some pretty sharp folks working in our computer crimes division."