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California bill would toughen penalties for celebrity 'swatting'

January 23, 2013 | 10:53 am

APphoto_South Korea People Tom Cruise

Alarmed that pranksters have called 911 to report false emergencies at the homes of celebrities, including Justin Bieber and Tom Cruise, a state lawmaker on Wednesday proposed legislation to get tougher with those engaged in "swatting."

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca asked for the bill by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), which provides for longer sentences and greater restitution when people are convicted of making false reports to the police involving anyone, including celebrities.

“The recent spate of phony reports to law enforcement officials that the home of an actor or singer is being robbed or held hostage is dangerous and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a tragic accident,” Lieu said. The most recent incident happened Monday when someone called police with a false report about domestic violence and a possible shooting at the Hollywood Hills home of singer Chris Brown, who was not home at the time.

Lieu said his bill, to be introduced soon, would hold those convicted of making false 911 reports liable for all costs associated with the police response. Currently, the penalty for making a false 911 report is up to one year in jail, but an offender could get probation with no jail time. Lieu's bill proposes a minumum sentence of 120 days in jail.

The measure would also make it easier to charge someone with a felony if a person gets hurt as a result of a prank call, which would increase the penalty to up to three years in jail. Prosecutors would no longer have to show that the prankster knew injury or death would occur as a result of a false report.

“The sheriff is sponsoring this bill because this phenomenon is increasingly becoming more of a challenge,'' said Stephen R. Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca. ``He believes increasing the penalties, including increased jail time and financial responsibility, will  bring this serious, albeit new, crime to the forefront exactly where it belongs.'' 

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Tom Cruise, shown at a press event in South Korea this month, has been a victim of swatting. Credit: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press

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