False 911 Reports, “Swatting” Ban in CA SB 333

California Senate Bill 333 was introduced by Senator Ted Lieu of Torrance, CA to address the near-epidemic proportions of “swatting” recently in the Southern California area.  “Swatting” occurs when false reports of threats or invaders in the homes of numerous residents are made.  The locations for the latest hoax of 911 calls come from Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and include victims such as Simon Cowell, Charlie Sheen, and Justin Bieber, among others.

Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Senate Bill 333 provides that any individual convicted of filing a false emergency report, i.e., “swatting,” is liable to a public agency for the reasonable cost of the emergency response by the public agency. Thus far, Senate Bill 333 proposes to amend only Penal Code § 148.3 to include this new anti-swatting language.

The Senate Committee on Public Safety heard Senate Bill 333 on April 9, 2013, and noted some of the consequences of the flood of false 911 reports (“swatting”) reported by Senator Lieu:

“Swatting incidents have already resulted in injuries for several responding officers, and many law enforcement officials fear that it is only a matter of time before events take a deadly turn.  Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck acknowledged in the Los Angeles Times that swatting has stretched the LAPD’s emergency response capacity while also endangering victims by placing them in potential confrontation with police.

Swatting not only is an inconvenience to the victims but also a costly waste of precious law enforcement resources.  Law enforcement takes every emergency reported and uses its resources to maximize public safety.  But at a time a false report is given, law enforcement is unaware that it is a hoax-until they get to the scene of the alleged crime.”

In his “Fact Sheet” regarding Senate Bill 333, Senator Lieu noted also that given “recent tragedies involving gun violence nationwide, pranks that divert public safety resources are far from harmless, and, in fact, are the last thing needed; they must be deterred.  This bill seeks to create a greater deterrent and provide law enforcement with the ability to help recoup expenses within the criminal case, which reportedly can run as high as $10,000 per incident.”

In addition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Senate Bill 333 is also supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association.  The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice are opposing this bill, asserting it is “unnecessary, as existing law more than adequately addresses this type of behavior.”

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