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Sheriff considers following LAPD's no-report policy on 'swatting'

April 12, 2013|By Andrew Blankstein

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will “seriously consider” following the Los Angeles Police Department’s new policies on confirming “swatting” incidents against celebrities, a department officials said.

The Los Angeles Police Department announced Thursday that it would take the unusual step of no longer issuing press releases or immediately confirming instances of celebrity "swatting," saying intense media coverage seems to be fueling more incidents.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, who oversees LAPD Media Relations, said the procedural change to keep celebrity swatting calls a secret is necessary because of concerns about the privacy of the victims as well as the belief that the publicity is emboldening copycats.

PHOTOS: Celebrity 'swatting' targets

Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, said that although sheriff’s officials “understand and share the LAPD’s concerns,” the public has “a right to know about law enforcement’s activities.” Nonetheless, he said the Sheriff’s Department would “seriously consider whatever policies the LAPD comes up with.”

The term "swatting" comes from the tactical response typically generated by such calls, which usually include claims that an armed intruder is inside the celebrity's home and that someone has been shot and wounded. Contacts are made via text message, phone or a computer-generated report and are difficult to investigate because perpetrators can disguise the origins of their messages by using multiple computer servers and other technological means.

Celebrity targets usually are not home during such incidents, but confusion can result in injury to responding officers or to other innocent parties, authorities said.

In the last several months, there have been more than a dozen prank swatting calls involving celebrities. Most of the targeted homes have been in areas patrolled by the LAPD; although some were in Beverly Hills and areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

“The sheriff is pushing for enhanced punishments regarding false reports of emergencies whereby perpetrators will have to reimburse the municipality for the entire cost of the response,” Whitmore said. “The sheriff believes this legislation is important.”

From now on, news outlets must now make a formal public records request asking whether officers responded to a radio call at a specific address, Smith said.

By law, the unit has 10 business days to respond to such requests, and Smith said the department could reject them if disclosing that information could be seen as compromising an investigation.

"It's our belief that the perpetrators of these false police reports are motivated entirely by the publicity these calls receive," Smith said.

Smith added that the false 911 calls were tying up critical police resources.

Beverly Hills Police Sgt. Renato Moreno said that police officials have discussed taking steps similar to the LAPD's, but as of yet, "no decision has been made," he said.

"The goal is to get these incidents to stop," Moreno said.

Most of the celebrity calls have come this year, and authorities say that since last year there has been a huge upswing in swatting.

Miley Cryus, targeted last July, was the first major publicized case. That was followed by a wave of calls targeting Ashton KutcherJustin BieberTom CruiseSimon Cowell and the Kardashian family.

A prank targeting Ryan Seacrest came hours after the radio host spoke to Russell Brand, whose Hollywood Hills home was hit Monday.

“'Swatting,' I don’t like the word very much. Swatting, obviously what you do to insects or a passing bottom,” Brand joked to Seacrest on his morning radio show on KIIS-FM (102.7). “If all swatting attacks are this unnoticeable, I’m ready for war because I didn’t even know it had happened. I still don’t know what a swatting attack is.”

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