Swatting in Hollywood

The New York Times notices a story that's been swirling around the Internet for a while. The subject is "swatting," in which people basically hack the police with calls directing SWAT teams to imaginary emergencies. The initial online coverage of the practice focused on people who use it to harass their enemies, but the Times discusses something else—pranksters swatting celebrities:

It's only fun until someone loses a life.What once was merely a police annoyance in Southern California—thrill-seeking pranksters filing a false report of a breaking horrific crime at celebrity's home, designed to provoke the dispatch of SWAT teams—has turned in recent weeks into a full-blown "swatting" epidemic, drawing expressions of concerns from police officials and victims alike, and the promise of a crackdown by lawmakers in Sacramento and at Los Angeles City Hall....

The [Ryan] Seacrest call marked the sixth time in a week that the police had scrambled to respond to a report of violence at the home of a Page Six-worthy parade of celebrities: Sean Combs last Wednesday, Rihanna on Thursday, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez on Friday and [Russell] Brand on Monday. Previous victims have included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus.

When they kick out your front door, how you gonna come?Police officials said the calls typically were punctuated with alarming real-time portrayals of what was supposedly taking place inside the victim’s home. "They give a very descriptive account, all the way down to the number of victims and the people screaming," said Sgt. Renato Moreno of the Beverly Hills police. "They paint a very horrific scene inside the house, describing a very uncontrolled scene."

The rash of hoaxes has put a strain on police departments already struggling with budget cuts. It also puts officers in danger as they race up the narrow streets in the neighborhoods where celebrities tend to live, or when they confront the armed private security forces that celebrities often hire.

One thing missing from the article is an awareness that there's a long history of wrong-door paramilitary police raids caused by errors rather than pranksters, with victims nowhere near as rich or famous as Selena Gomez or Tom Cruise. I say this not to downplay how terrible the Hollywood raids are, but to point out that there's a larger mess here. As California lawmakers ponder ways to penalize the people who make these calls, they should also look into the possiblity that a large, frequently deployed, and easily misled militarized police apparatus is itself a part of the problem.

For more on that problem, see Vice's recent interview with former Reasoner Radley Balko—author of the upcoming Rise of the Warrior Cop—on how "we started to see SWAT teams used on an almost daily basis." He also touches on the aggravating ways that the issue gets diverted into Red Team/Blue Team battles, as

Warrior cops for thee, but not for me.political factions decry police militarization when it's used against them, but tend to fall somewhere between indifferent and gleeful when it's used against people they don't like. Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s—and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.

Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests—and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids—conservatives don't much care. Conservatives were mad about the heavy-handed raid on the Gibson Guitar factory. Liberals blew it off. Just a few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow resurrected the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents in a segment about gun control—and was dismissive of people who thought the government's actions were excessive. Of course, Maddow was also fuming about the treatment of Occupy protesters.

Until partisans are willing to denounce excessive force when it's used against people whose politics offend them—or at least refrain from endorsing it—it's hard to see how there will ever be a consensus for reform.

Now I suppose we'll get to see the same dynamic play out among the fans and foes of Justin Bieber.

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  • Fluffy||

    The only reason SWATing is effective as a weapon is because people know that the police will react to all incident reports without intelligence.

    They will bury perfectly quiet scenes in flash grenades and smoke.

    When force protection is more important than ANYTHING, it's really easy to turn the security apparatus on to people you don't like. Or upon itself.

  • John Thacker||

    Nah, that's some of it, but not all of it. The other reason is that people know that they can make false calls with little chance of being caught or penalties. (In some cases, like calls to Child Protective Services, there's absolute immunity for making a false call.) Even if the police use intelligence, pranksters can still be happy with a fairly low success rate so long as they know that there's no chance of personal blowback.

  • Zeb||

    Pretty sure there's no immunity for false 911 calls. I think that the way they've been avoiding being caught by using inline, text based 911 services meant for deaf people. At least that's what happened recently in the town next to where I live. Some kid got pissed about something that happened in an online video game and called in a fake stabbing or something.

  • CE||

    Time to ban SWAT teams!

  • tarran||

    I am reliably informed by the commenters on Shiksa's immigration piece that by choosing to live in LA, those people have consented to being swatted, so they should stop whining. :)

  • Killazontherun||

    Is that to imply that proglodytes do care? If that is the case, why have they allowed President Shitface Asshole to get away with a record breaking number of such raids? They care, but its just not that much of a priority, then, so, points for caring, as always when you are on the right Team.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Liberals mocked them for it.

    ...

    And conservatives mocked them."

    It's mostly just libertarians that care about consistency and justice.

    Most of the rest of them don't know whether to defend or mock a victim until they know whether he's team red or team blue.

  • PapayaSF||

    With all due respect to Balko, his equivalents aren't all very equivalent. Police were rather harsher at Waco and Ruby Ridge than they were at any Occupy event, as the body counts prove.

  • Virginian||

    Yeah Waco is quite simply the most heinous act the US government has committed against it's own citizens since the internment of the Japanese.

    To me, Waco was the proof that the system was truly broken beyond all repair. I mean, not only did Reno and Clinton not stand trial, they weren't even impeached. Reno didn't even resign in "disgrace" to take a job teaching or something. They just carried on like the premeditated murder of a hundred people was nothing.

  • Finrod||

    Especially since the Occupy protests were in flagrant violation of the law right from the beginning. The cops showed immense restraint not clearing them out the very first day.

    Compare to Waco, where I don't think they even had felony charges that could have stood up.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Previous victims have included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus.

    Cruise must not have been home.

    Otherwise, he would surely have taken out all the members of the team. In slow motion.

  • ||

    Nah, he'd try to do his Scientology-Jedi-Mind-Trick crap with the awkward eye contact and gentle touching. As soon as his hand touches an officer's shoulder, you bet the cuffs are coming out.

  • ||

    Or he would just start sprinting

  • Scarcity||

    C'mon, everybody knows he'd just hide in the closet

  • ||

    Or Cruise audited them with an E-meter until they were clear...

  • The Late P Brooks||

    It also puts officers in danger as they race up the narrow streets in the neighborhoods where celebrities tend to live, or when they confront the armed private security forces that celebrities often hire.

    Wait, what?

    Does Mayors Against Legal Guns know about this? When will someone take a principled stand against private armies?

  • Brandon||

    To the liberal mind, private armies = well regulated militia.

  • fried wylie||

    What doesn't qualify as "hacking" these days?

  • Jesse Walker||

    I think swatting qualifies as "social engineering," in the hacker's sense of that phrase.

  • fried wylie||

    "hacker" in this context meaning "any random human being", right?

  • Jesse Walker||

    No, it means "members of the hacking subculture, who have a long history of using the phrase 'social engineering' in a particular way, as opposed to the other, very different definition of the phrase."

  • fried wylie||

    "members of the hacking subculture" = anyone with broadband, yeah?

  • Jesse Walker||

    Doubly inaccurate, since the phrase predates home broadband.

  • fried wylie||

    "fantastic" used to mean something besides "great" too.

  • Brandon||

    "members of the hacking subculture" = Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock?

  • ||

    That raises an excellent point of the retardation of words and their meanings. When someone leaves their social network site logged in on a computer that they let someone borrow, they shouldn't complain that they got "hacked" when someone posts something obscene or hysterical at their expense.

  • Counterfly||

    You literally just blew my mind.

  • Ted S.||

  • SugarFree||

    If the general public would look at the police and their behavior honestly, swatting would be considered attempted murder.

  • ||

    And that was the exact claim conservatives were making during the Patterico et al. incident, and "normals" were laughing at them about it. Frankly, it really is attempted murder.

  • CE||

    And animal cruelty.

  • Zeb||

    Big deal. They don't give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry, do they?

  • Drake||

    I had a cop show up at my house once, claiming somebody called 911 from my location (we didn't). It was a single uniformed State Police Officer (we don't have a local police force). He left after talking to us for a minute and realizing that clearly nothing was amiss.

    SWATting works because the LA area police forces send a damn whole team, not a patrol car to check it out. It will end when the police start dressing and acting like police again.

  • fried wylie||

    send a damn whole team, not a patrol car to check it out.

    Someone didn't learn anything from Die Hard

  • Matrix||

    Carl Winslow survived the incident, though.

  • Drake||

    He accessed the situation and made the appropriate call.

  • Jordan||

  • Sevo||

    "He left after talking to us for a minute and realizing that clearly nothing was amiss."

    And you're dog's still alive?!

  • waffles||

    I am.

  • sarcasmic||

    It will end when the police start dressing and acting like police again.

    Now why would they go and give up the power to kill on a whim?

  • ||

    It was a single uniformed State Police Officer (we don't have a local police force)

    Where is this utopia in which you live????

  • Drake||

    Northeast NJ - most of the smaller towns don't bother. They just pay the Staties to show up when needed.

  • T||

    We actually (successfully) fought traffic enforcement in our subdivision. It's a private gated community, so the cops can't come in and write traffic tickets.

    Since they can't write tickets, they told us they wouldn't patrol. So, anarchy in suburbia. They'll come in response to calls, but no patrols and no traffic tickets.

  • Harvard||

    Dunphy is VERY disappointed in you.

  • sarcasmic||

    I live in a small town with no police force. That means no local laws that can't be enforced, since the sheriff and troopers will only enforce state law. So when some lady complained at the town meeting that the neighbor's fireworks were scaring her kitty cat, and she wanted the town to limit their use, the town selectman told her to pound sand. Another kind person at the meeting suggested earmuffs for the cat. I like living in a small town.

  • CE||

    So it's basically a mini-Somalia?

  • fried wylie||

    Little Somalia.

  • PapayaSF||

    I had this happen twice. Turned out that a buried telephone line would get a short when it rained and, for some reason, automatically call 911.

  • Finrod||

    It isn't just LA. When Erick Erickson was SWATted in Macon GA, they sent a whole squad to his house, too, even though he had warned them that something like this might occur. The only difference was that they sent one guy up to his door to check before they went commando.

  • Zeb||

    It depends to some extent on what the caller says. I bet if whoever made the call that got the cop to your house had said that there had just been a murder or armed break in or something, they would have sent more than just the one guy.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    He left after talking to us for a minute and realizing that clearly nothing was amiss.

    A soundproof basement is a truly wise investment.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The b list celebs aren't going to care cause it gets their name in the news.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Conservatives, remember, were furious over Waco, Ruby Ridge, and a host of BATF abuses against gun owners in the 1990s—and rightly so. Liberals mocked them for it.

    Liberals were furious at the aggressive response to the occupy protests—and rightly so. And conservatives mocked them. Liberals are rightly angry about militarized immigration raids—conservatives don't much care. Conservatives were mad about the heavy-handed raid on the Gibson Guitar factory. Liberals blew it off. Just a few weeks ago, Rachel Maddow resurrected the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents in a segment about gun control—and was dismissive of people who thought the government's actions were excessive.

    People who have never had the...unique privilege of being on the wrong end of some police brutality tend to take the "Law & Order" (the show) view: The police would never abuse you if you weren't already a scumbag, so even if you didn't do what they're accusing you of at that moment, you likely did something before that and deserve to be beaten.

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