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Senate committee backs stiffer penalty for 'swatting'

April 09, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • Justin Timberlake, shown at a recent performance, appears to have been a victim of a prank call that drew police to his house.
Justin Timberlake, shown at a recent performance, appears to have been… (Jason Kempin / Getty Images…)

SACRAMENTO -- Just days after hoax 911 calls were made involving the homes of Justin Timberlake,  Rihanna and Sean Combs, state lawmakers acted Tuesday to advance a bill creating heavy financial penalties for those making false calls known as "swatting."

On Friday, the LAPD responded to calls of shots being fired at Timberlake’s Hollywood Hills home but found no evidence to back the report, indicating he is a victim of a prank call.

On Tuesday, the state Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) to make those convicted of such false calls responsible for paying restitution for the cost of the police response, which can be in the thousands of dollars.

"It is both a danger and a drain on law enforcement resources,’’ Lieu told the committee, which sent the bill to a committee on finances.

Police arriving with guns drawn could end up running into armed private security at homes of celebrities, Lieu said. “The result of this, sooner or later, is going to be injury or death,’’ he said.

The measure was backed by Lt. Wayne Bilowit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who said a large number of the 400 swatting incidents nationwide have occurred in his county.

"This is unfortunately a growing phenomenon,’’ he told the legislators.

Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said the proposed new law would provide a "strong disincentive’’ once it is applied a few times. The bill originally would have also required a minimum jail sentence of 120 days, but that section was taken out by Lieu to eliminate costs to the state and address opposition from the California Attorneys for Civil Justice.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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