A bill to increase penalties for swatting, a prank that has sent swarms of law enforcement to celebrities’ homes in recent weeks, unanimously passed a California Assembly committee Tuesday.
Assembly Bill 47, which was first introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D- Los Angeles) on Dec. 19, 2012 and amended on March 13, received a unanimous vote of 7-0 by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
AB 47, which will face the Assembly Committee on Appropriations in May, would increase the fines and penalties for making a prank 911 call that results in the dispatch of service personnel where there is no emergency.
“These pranks are a serious drain of public safety resources away from real emergencies, and dispatching armed law enforcement officers to fake emergences places the public and law enforcement at significant risk,” Gatto said in a statement.
The penalty for “swatting” would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,000, up to one year in jail or both, according to AB 47. If an emergency responder sustains injury as a result of the prank 911 call, penalties could increase to $10,000 and two or three years in jail.
A 911 call reported “a group of armed men” trying to break into Seacrest’s Beverly Hills home Thursday, but when officers arrived, Seacrest’s private security said there were no problems at the residence.
A possible shooting and armed robbery was reported on April 4 at Rihanna’s home in Pacific Palisades, but the home was safely guarded by security when law enforcement arrived.
"Police fear that this potential deadly prank will become more prevalent if we do not do something to elevate "swatting" to a serious crime," Gatto said in a statement released after Thursday's vote.
Under existing law, calling 911 for a non-emergency is considered to be an infraction, punishable by a warning. A person found guilty of “swatting,” or prank calling 911, would be convicted of a misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail, a fine up to $1,000 or both.
Lawmakers throughout Los Angeles and California have discussed additional penalties in swatting cases following the recent surge in false 911 calls.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz introduced a motion asking the city attorney to report back in 30 days with a drafted ordinance that would require “swatting” offenders to pay restitution.
Senate Bill 333, which also proposes increased penalties for "swatting," passed a California Senate committee April 9 and will be subject to a fiscal review within a month.