By Gary Walker
Less than a week after introducing his proposed bill to penalize those engaging in the practice of “swatting,” state Sen. Ted Lieu was subjected to the trendy and dangerous phenomenon that he is trying to legislate.
A victim is subjected to swatting when a call is made to a 911 operator to send emergency personnel to a residence by falsely reporting that there is an emergency or an accident.
On April 19, a call was made to the Torrance Police Department falsely claiming that Lieu’s wife had been shot. Emergency personnel were deployed to the senator’s Torrance home, where no incident had taken place.
Under Senate Bill 333, which would apply to any cases of false 911 reports, a person convicted of making a fake emergency report would be held liable for all costs associated with the response by law enforcement.
Estimates range from several thousand dollars to over $10,000 per episode.
“The recent spate of phony reports to law enforcement officials that someone’s home is being robbed or is held hostage is dangerous and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a tragic accident,” said Lieu April 16, whose Senate district includes Mar Vista, Marina del Rey and Venice, where many celebrities and high-profile Westsiders reside.
His district has recently expanded to include wealthy enclaves such as Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Beverly Hills.
Lieu was unbowed after the incident at his home on moving the bill through the state Legislature.
“What happened to me is why we need to increase the penalties on swatting,” he said. “We had police and fire deployed to our home for no good reason.”
With summer approaching and a potential for fires and other emergencies, these phony calls can take away resources needed in an actual emergency, the senator added.
“These firefighters, paramedics and police officers would not have been able to respond to a real incident in the city,” Lieu noted.
Singers Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber are some of the celebrities who have been victims of swatting. Actors Tom Cruise, Ashton Kutcher and others have also had police dispatched to their residences after bogus calls claiming that someone was in danger.
“The reason that it’s called ‘swatting’ is because due to the nature of these prank calls, usually a 911 operator will send a SWAT team to the home,” Lieu explained. “The homeowner could have a gun or in some cases private security might respond, and you can see how a misunderstanding or miscommunication can lead to an unfortunate situation.”
SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics for law enforcement units that use military-style maneuvers in high- risk situations.
In December, a 12-year-old boy was charged with making untrue calls of incidents to several homes, including Kutcher’s.
SB 333 has been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee for review.