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New anti-swatting law requiring pranksters to reimburse cities starts Jan. 1

Swat teams suit up to sweep the SoCal Edison building.
Shirley Jahad/KPCC
Swat teams suit up to sweep the SoCal Edison building.

Starting January 1, pranksters convicted of “swatting” will be required to reimburse the municipal departments that responded to the fake emergency for their services.

The new anti-swatting law takes effect January 1 and orders those convicted of falsely reporting an emergency to reimburse the city departments up to $10,000 for responding to the scene.

Swatting is when a person reports an emergency to 911 dispatchers. The phone call seems to be coming from inside the victim’s home or their cell phone. Teams of police, fire and SWAT are sent to respond to a sometimes empty home but law enforcement say the fake emergencies tie up resources and can seriously hurt someone.

“Individuals involved in the swatting were just out for the hype, for the publicity, for the entertainment of it,” said Lt. Mark Reina of LAPD’s Hollywood Division.

The bill was introduced as a way to discourage the number of swatting calls law enforcement had to deal with. The prank began two years ago when pop singer Miley Cyrus’ house was swatted. It snowballed into the next year when celebrities Simon Cowell, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise, and other high-profiled figures were targeted.

Reina said the majority of swatting calls the LAPD received were aimed at celebrities but a handful of them over the last year have targeted regular businesses.

In March, a 12-year old boy admitted to swatting the homes of Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber as well as a bank.

Not long after that, the LAPD made a policy decision to stop sending press releases when a swatting incident occurred. It now requires a public records request to confirm if a swatting call has occurred and to get details on the incident.

Reina said after that decision, the police department saw a dramatic decrease in the number of swatting calls but he didn’t have hard numbers to confirm that downward trend.

Last month, the L.A. City Council approved a motion that allowed the city to offer rewards to people who can help police identify swatting callers. Council Member Paul Koretz, who experienced two swatting calls to his apartment in 2012, sponsored the motion.