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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Crime Bulletin: "Celebrity Swatting" in LA

     The term "swatting" pertains to a dangerous practical joke involving a false 911 report of a shooting that riggers a SWAT team response to the home of the prankster's victim. (Many of these 911 callers disguise the origins of their messages by using multiple computer servers and other high-tech tricks.) Swatting defendants are usually charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor offense that usually brings a fine and up to 90 days in jail.

     While the law doesn't treat swatting as a serious offense, the crime involves the potential that a police officer or an occupant of the target dwelling could get shot.  SWAT raids are tense, hair-trigger operations that frequently go wrong. If a SWAT officer is accidentally shot and killed during a raid caused by a swatter, the offender cannot be charged under the felony-murder doctrine because the underlying crime is a misdemeanor.

     Last year in Los Angeles, several celebrities were targeted by these 911 pranksters. Victims of the so-called celebrity swattings included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell, Ashton Kutcher, and the Kardashian family. In 2013, swatters victimized Russell Brand, Sean Combs, Selena Gomez, Clint Eastwood, Ryan Seacrest, and Justin Timberlake. Nationwide, the police have reported more than 400 of these 911 abuses. (On a less serious note, a 911 caller in Girard, Pennsylvania recently asked the emergency dispatcher to divorce her from her husband. The woman was charged with disorderly conduct.)

     In April 2013, the media relations spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department announced that the agency would no longer issue press releases regarding celebrity swatting cases. Police administrators believe that the publication of these incidents has produced copycat offenses. The media spokesperson, in further justifying the news blackout, expressed concern over how this reportage intruded on the celebrity victims' privacy. (Celebrities, by choice, are not private people. They are however, rich and wield a lot of influence in southern California.)

     On April 9, 2013, a California state Senate committee unanimously approved a bill to require people convicted of swatting pay for the cost of the police response. (Some of these SWAT deployments cost up to $10,000.) The Senate bill also imposes a stiffer sentence for convicted swatters. Under the proposed legislation, an offender will receive a minimum of 120 days in the county jail. (These local politicians are either unaware of California's shortage of jail space, or are simply grandstanding for attention and votes.)

   

     

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