Pranksters face stiffer fines for luring SWAT teams to California celebrity homes

SACRAMENTO Tue Sep 10, 2013 7:12pm EDT

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SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - Pranksters who make false emergency calls, drawing police to the homes of celebrities and other targets, will face tougher penalties under a new law signed by California Governor Jerry Brown.

The law, signed late on Monday, takes aim at the expensive and, police say, dangerous hoax known as swatting, when a caller reports that violent intruders have taken over a home, prompting an armed law enforcement response.

In Southern California in recent months, swatters have sent police to the homes of such celebrities as Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, the Kardashians, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood, according to a fact sheet distributed by state Senator Ted Lieu, who sponsored the law.

"The reason it's called swatting is because the incident that's being described is of such a severe nature that the police send a SWAT team or its equivalent," Lieu, a Democrat who represents the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance, told Reuters.

Firefighters and paramedics will also often be sent out because the pranksters sometimes claim that a resident in the home has been injured or killed, he said.

The cost of sending out such large teams of first-responders can be as high as $10,000 per call, Lieu said. Under the new law, callers making the false report - or their parents - will be required to reimburse law enforcement agencies for the full amount.

Previously, pranksters could face up to 1 year in jail and a fine up to $1,000, depending on the court's discretion. The new law does not change the potential jail time.

More than just being costly, such pranks are dangerous, Lieu said.

"Let's say it's late at night and it's dark and you have all these law enforcement officers showing up with guns drawn," Lieu said. Homeowners or private security guards could misread the situation and respond with their own weapons drawn, prompting tragedy, he said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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