"Swatting" of celebrities endanger police and waste resources
What once was merely a police annoyance in Southern California — thrill-seeking pranksters filing a false report of a breaking horrific crime at celebrity’s home, designed to provoke the dispatch of SWAT teams — has turned in recent weeks into a full-blown “swatting” epidemic, drawing expressions of concerns from police officials and victims alike, and the promise of a crackdown by lawmakers in Sacramento and at Los Angeles City Hall.On Wednesday afternoon, Ryan Seacrest — who earlier that day on his radio show had aggressively challenged Mr. Brand after Mr. Brand tried to make light of his own experience — became the latest victim of a swatting prank. The Beverly Hills Police Department received a late-afternoon false report that a group of armed men was trying to break into Mr. Seacrest’s gated estate on Cabrillo Lane.The Seacrest call marked the sixth time in a week that the police had scrambled to respond to a report of violence at the home of a Page Six-worthy parade of celebrities: Sean Combs last Wednesday, Rihanna on Thursday, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez on Friday and Mr. Brand on Monday. Previous victims have included Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus.Police officials said the calls typically were punctuated with alarming real-time portrayals of what was supposedly taking place inside the victim’s home. “They give a very descriptive account, all the way down to the number of victims and the people screaming,” said Sgt. Renato Moreno of the Beverly Hills police. “They paint a very horrific scene inside the house, describing a very uncontrolled scene.”The rash of hoaxes has put a strain on police departments already struggling with budget cuts. It also puts officers in danger as they race up the narrow streets in the neighborhoods where celebrities tend to live, or when they confront the armed private security forces that celebrities often hire.
¶ Police officials said that typically, pranksters placed a 911 call through a computer, often by hacking into someone else’s account or using a system for people with hearing disabilities, to disguise their locations. They report a crime in progress at a celebrity’s address, usually involving people armed with guns or bombs, which prompts the police to respond Code 3, with lights and sirens.
¶ The authorities said they had become more sophisticated in tracking down prank calls. “A lot of people think that if they’re on a confidential server, it won’t give away their address,” Mr. Smith said. “But if you put a search warrant in front of an Internet company, they can give you pretty much whatever information the judge tells them to.”
There was a time when the Los Angeles police would have responded to any report of a threat on a celebrity with an all-out bells-and-whistles show of force. Last October, 42 police officers responded to a report of a man with a gun inside Mr. Kutcher’s home, backed up by a hovering helicopter and a brigade of fire trucks.Yet a familiar wariness has begun to settle in as these calls have become more common. On Monday, the Los Angeles police dispatched a solitary patrol car to Mr. Brand’s home. Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said his agency had become more adept at spotting hoax calls, and had scaled back responses accordingly.