Calif. Wants to Increase Penalties for “Swatting” Pranks, But They’ll Have to Catch Them First

Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations. A team responded to a hostage situation at a local Nordstrom Rack just earlier this month.

The militarization of the police force has resulted in numerous terrible consequences that we’re all dreadfully familiar with by now: An endless parade of unneeded and violent raids to serve search warrants (often at the wrong address); the frequent pointless murders of family dogs; the acquisition of powerful weaponry no police force (even in Los Angeles) would ever likely have a legitimate need for; and the tragic and unnecessary deaths of both innocent residents as well as police officers themselves. SWAT teams do have a legitimate purpose, even if they’re so frequently misused.

So it is a bit of a bitter pill that the one legitimate use of the SWAT team has led to the obnoxious “swatting” trend – where a prank caller contacts 911 and tells the operator that there’s a violent crime in progress at somebody else’s address. The police respond in full force, prepared for danger, only to find some very confused, harmless people.

Swatting is not terribly common, but there have been several high-profile incidents in Los Angeles in the past year. Since this is Los Angeles, “high-profile” means “celebrities.” Targets have included Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Tom Cruise, Ashton Kutcher, Simon Cowell, Miley Cyrus and the Kardashians. All our best and brightest! (Really, can you imagine trying to narrow down a pool of possible suspects for these?)

Anyway, California legislators, at the request of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, are proposing a bill to increase the penalties for Swatting. Via the Los Angeles Times:

[Mike] Gatto and [Ted] Lieu both propose that those convicted of making false 911 reports be liable for all costs associated with the police response. Such pranks are "a complete waste of law enforcement resources," said Gatto.

The Assemblyman's measure, AB 47, would also increase the maximum fine for conviction from $1,000 to $10,000 and make it easier to file murder charges if someone is killed in a swatting incident.

Existing penalties for false 911 reports include up to one year in jail, but an offender may get probation with no jail time. Lieu, a military reserve prosecutor, wants to set a minimum sentence of 120 days in jail.

The problem, though, as that they’ve only caught one swatter so far in these celebrity cases and he was a 12-year-old boy. Increasing penalties doesn’t do much good when you can’t catch the perpetrators.

Also, the Times is ignoring the lovely way prosecutors can throw the book at defendants. From their own previous reporting of a non-celebrity swatting prank, a teen was sentenced to three years in state prison in 2008. The prosecution tacked on a charge of “false imprisonment by violence” and he was ordered to pay $14,765 in restitution to the responding law enforcement agency. Arguably, increasing the penalty isn’t really necessary, and mandatory minimums are generally bad policy (even if this one is reasonably short).

The Times also reports that the LAPD is “recalibrating” their responses to 911 calls to try to react more quickly to possible pranks. They’re still going to send a full contingent of officers, though (imagine the potential liability if they decide a legitimate call is a prank).

Now, if only their concerns about accidentally injuring innocent people extended to the SWAT raids that don’t originate from calls to 911, the ones that the police departments themselves coordinate and are often completely unneeded.

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  • R C Dean||

    Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations.

    [raises hand]

    Exactly what is it about a hostage situation that requires a paramilitary response? A guy holed up in a building with a few hostages can be bottled up with a police cordon, backed up by a few snipers, yes? Do SWAT teams actually do forced entries on hostage situations? Wouldn't a hostage situation be the last place to open up with full auto weapons? Exactly what good options does a paramilitary force bring to a hostage sitution that aren't available without them?

  • SIV||

    The SWAT team waited 4 hours before entering that Nordstroms. Inside they found a stabbibg victim, a sexual assault victim and everyone locked in a storage room. The criminals were long gone. WTF good did they do? What if the wounded hostage bled out while they dicked around outside for 4 hours?

    Don't even get me started on Columbine.

  • IceTrey||

    Don't forget Sandy Hook were even though the cops were in the building they wouldn't let EMT's in to tend to the victims.

  • sloopyinca||

    Since we're talking about LA here, let's discuss the fact that nobody is facing charges here when a man claimed people were armed that weren't and one of them got smoked by a cop because he was (you guessed it) reaching into his waistband.

    Literally, nothing else happened.

  • Drake||

    If you can wait 4 hours, you can wait for the FBI hostage rescue team to get there and not fuck it up.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Do SWAT teams actually do forced entries on hostage situations? Wouldn't a hostage situation be the last place to open up with full auto weapons? Exactly what good options does a paramilitary force bring to a hostage sitution that aren't available without them?

    Elite forces like the SAS spend hundreds of hours training in a kill house to be about to do just that.

    SWAT training usually consists of listening to your drunken-ass of a commander tell racist jokes at the local Hooters.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    * to be able to

  • Loki||

    At the risk of being a pedant, aren't snipers usually part of the SWAT team?

    I think SWAT teams only do forced entries in hostage situations if they think there's an extremely good chance that the hostage takers are getting ready to murder the hostages anyway. Otherwise, it's pretty much what you describe, but with SWAT officers instead of "regular" cops. I'd also guess that there's some training issues involved too. IOW regular donut munching beat cops aren't really trained to handle a hostage situation, etc.

  • sloopyinca||

    Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations.

    I fucking would. It's a colossal waste of resources that is used effectively maybe once or twice a year but routinely creates more intense and stressful situations just by showing up.

    The vast majority of "hostage situations" are created when an armed force shows up and forms an encampment outside someone's house. Most of those situations would have been more easily resolved by a uniformed officer politely knocking on a door and discussing the situation with the person inside.

    Don't even get me started on SWAT raids to serve no-knock warrants in high-crime areas and the carnage they cause.

  • ||

    A team responded to a hostage situation at a local Nordstrom Rack just earlier this month.

    Who cares? That's where poor people shop.

    make it easier to file murder charges if someone is killed in a swatting incident

    The casualness of this, the complete unconcern that this is in fact a real possibility, is chilling.

  • ||

    Hey, I shop at Nordstrom Rack someti....WAIT A MINUTE.

  • ||

    He hits that bullseye, and the rest of the dominoes fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.

  • $park¥||

    It's like you teed up that softball so he could hit it out of the park.

  • ||

    I see that Dianne Feinstein has decided to press on with FULL RETARD.

    The new bill proposes to:

    Ban the sale, transfer, importation or manufacturing of about 150 named firearms, plus certain rifles, handguns and shotguns fitted for detachable magazines and having at least one military characteristic.
    Strengthen the 1994 ban by moving from a two- to a one-characteristic test to determine what constitutes an assault weapon.
    Ban firearms with "thumbhole stocks" and "bullet buttons."
    Ban the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
    Ban high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

    Enjoy your landslide midterm loss, you dumb cunt.

  • Drake||

    Let's get everyone in Congress on record with this thing.

  • Bam!||

    "Ban the sale, transfer, importation or manufacturing of about 150 named firearms, plus certain rifles, handguns and shotguns fitted for detachable magazines and having at least one military characteristic."

    Still born

  • SIV||

    There is no way a dozen or so Dem Senators would go on record voting for that.

  • Drake||

    "grandfathered weapons will be logged in a national registry"

    Want to bet?

  • sloopyinca||

    Why do you hate the children, Drake?

  • Loki||

    Enjoy your landslide midterm loss, you dumb cunt.

    Unfortunately she's from CA, the fullest of full retard states, so she's probably safe. Any Dem from non full retard state, however...

  • IceTrey||

    (imagine the potential liability if they decide a legitimate call is a prank).

    Cops have zero liability from not responding to 911 calls.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W.....f_Columbia

  • iggy||

    Is there anything for which cops are held liable? Because when they beat up an innocent person they aren't liable, when they shoot someone without justification they aren't liable and they have no legal duty to protect you, so they can't be held liable for not helping.

    So they aren't held liable for hurting you OR for allowing someone else to hurt you. Not sure I agree 100 percent with their police work.

  • Bam!||

    Is there anything that the government is ever held liable for? Seriously, anything or anyone.

  • sarcasmic||

    Because government is by definition the last word in violence, no one can hold people in government accountable except other people in government. Of course they view their role as protecting each other, so that never happens.

    This is what drives many people to believe in a higher power and hope for justice in the afterlife, because there is none in this one.

  • sloopyinca||

    They're held liable all the time. It's just that the taxpayers are forced to pay for their actionable offenses.

    I'll repeat this here: until all these settlements are paid from the police retirement fund and/or departmental budget, you will never see police departments ac responsibly or clean themselves up.

  • iggy||

    That's my point though. The officers who actually commit the crime are rarely punished to the level that the crime should be punished. When there's liability, it's paid for by the taxpayers. The cops and the station aren't required to pay for any liability, so what possible incentive could they have to deal with the situation or remove dangerous cops from duty?

  • sloopyinca||

    Diplomatic Qualified Immunity!

  • sarcasmic||

    What else is a dangerous cop going to do with is life?

    I mean, once you are accustomed to routinely using violence without consequence, you are no longer fit for polite society.

    You can't go around beating up anyone who doesn't show you proper respect, or winning arguments by putting a gun to someone's head. That kind of shit lands people in jail.

    So what are they to do except be police officers? To kick them off the force is to put them in jail for the rest of their life.

    How fair is that?

  • Andrew S.||

    They get to retain their superiority over the proles, even after they leave the force. See the New York State gun law, where they want to carve out exceptions not only for current police officers, but also retired ones.

  • sarcasmic||

    Federal law gives current and retired cops CCW permits in all 50 states.

    Some animals are more equal than others.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Isn't this also likely to discourage legitimate 911 calls? If I see something going on, I may hesitate to call out of fear that I'll be arrested if I'm misinterpretting the situation.

  • Enough About Palin||

    No, because you would be using your phone.

  • $park¥||

    The Assemblyman's measure, AB 47, would also increase the maximum fine for conviction from $1,000 to $10,000 and make it easier to file murder charges if someone is killed in a swatting incident.

    Murder charges against the cops and not the idiot that made the fake call, right? Right?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations.

    I will.

  • sloopyinca||

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Few would argue that large cities like Los Angeles shouldn’t have standing SWAT teams to handle hostage or crisis situations.

    *raises hand*

    Has anyone done a cost-benefit analysis, comparing what it costs to train and maintain a dedicated SWAT team against previous damage done by SWAT teams in these "hostage and crisis" incidence which are apparently so prevalent as to require dedicated SWAT teams in the first place?

  • sloopyinca||

    Somebody should have called in a SWAT Team to save Kelly Thomas from that armed gang that beat him to death.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Sloopy, sloopy, sloopy...when will you learn that a criminal act is not criminal when the Sovereign (or the Sovereign's Men) do it?

    Laws are for the peasants.

  • SugarFree||

    If we were honest about the violence that cops do, swatting would be charged as attempted murder every time.

  • Loki||

    ^This^

    And if the cops do actually shoot someone it should be considered at least manslaughter. I'm guessing based on this bill making it "easier to file murder charges if someone is killed in a swatting incident" that there's some reason why they can't do that very easily already in CA law.

  • SugarFree||

    I would imagine that they never thought of outlawing using a SWAT team as a murder weapon. There would have been no provision made to consider someone calling emergency services an accessory before the fact.

  • Loki||

    The problem, though, as that they’ve only caught one swatter so far in these celebrity cases and he was a 12-year-old boy.

    Not surprising. This sounds like the kind of shit that only a 12 year old or someone with the maturity of a 12 year old would pull.

  • SugarFree||

    Although... What an excellent way to get away with murder with the right victim. You want to kill someone heavily armed and a bit paranoid? Know they sleep with a gun in the bedside table? Send a SWAT team in the middle of the night from a burner phone.

    At a minimum, they will be arrested for resisting or even menacing.

  • Agammamon||

    ". . .the acquisition of powerful weaponry no police force (even in Los Angeles) would ever likely have a legitimate need for"

    Look, you never know when a massive gang war will erupt between rival drug lords and the Predator will show up.

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