The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department will continue to respond to inquiries about incidents about false reports of emergencies but would not publicize them as so-called "swatting incidents," a department spokesman said Monday.
The statement by Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca, came several days after the Los Angeles Police Department took the unusual step of announcing it would no longer acknowledge such incidents through news releases. The LAPD told news organizations to make public records requests about specific addresses.
In taking their action , LAPD officials cited concerns for the privacy of "swatting" victims and a belief that publicity is emboldening copycats, tying up critical police resources.
Sheriff's officials said last week they would “seriously consider” following the LAPD's lead but Monday said they would examine swatting incidents "on a case by case basis."
"This is a delicate balance between the public's right to know about law enforcement's activities compared with the public hysteria surrounding what the press refers to as 'swatting,' " Whitmore said. "If there is an incident that requires us to release information regarding a false report of an emergency, we will consider each individual set of facts as we do with every incident."
Whitmore noted that Baca is also pushing for enhanced punishments regarding false reports of emergencies whereby perpetrators will have to reimburse the municipality for the entire cost of the response.
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.
Miley Cyrus, targeted last July, was the first major publicized case. That was followed by a wave of calls targeting Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell and the Kardashian family.
A more recent spate of incidents targeted notable entertainers such as P. Diddy, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, Russell Brand and Ryan Seacrest.
The term "swatting" comes from the tactical response typically generated by such reports, which usually include claims that an armed intruder is inside the celebrity's home and that someone has been shot and wounded. The reports are often made via text other computer-generated message and are difficult to trace because perpetrators have learned how to disguise a message's origin.
Celebrity targets usually are not home during such incidents, but confusion can result in injury to responding officers or to other innocent parties, authorities have said.
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