‘Swatting’ is a term used for making a hoax 9-1-1 call in an attempt to get the dispatcher to call in an emergency service response based on a false report. It is called ‘swatting’ because the ultimate goal is to get a SWAT team response.
The practice has caught the attention of media outlets nationwide because well-known celebrities have been among the targets of the hoax. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Police Department decided to keep celebrity swatting incidents a secret in hopes that the lack of media coverage would discourage “swatters.”
Swatting is a headache for law enforcement officers and lawmakers because it is a drain on city and county resources. Under current California law, it is already a crime punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000. The punishment can also be greater if the prank call intentionally sends emergency service responders into harm’s way.
On Thursday, SB 333, introduced by Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), passed the California Senate with a unanimous vote, 33-0. The bill would increase the penalty for swatting by requiring those responsible for the hoax to cover the cost of the incident. This could mean a fine up to $10,000 per incident. If a minor is convicted, his or her parents would have to foot the bill.
Lieu has first-hand experience being a victim of swatting.
On April 19, police responded to a call reporting that Lieu had shot his wife in their Torrance home. The senator was out of town when the call was made and Lieu told TMZ his wife was at home sick.
The bill will now go to the Assembly for consideration. Considering the bipartisan support in the Senate, it seems likely the legislation will receive very little resistance and will end up on Governor Brown’s desk.