Everyone from Ryan Seacrest to The New York Times wants to talk about "swatting" (or faking a dramatic 911 call to dispatch a SWAT team to the home of a targeted celebrity) this week. Everyone, that is, except the frustrated law enforcement agencies who are failing to track down the prank callers or stem the dramatic increase in incidents.
On Thursday, LAPD announced it would no longer discuss swatting incidents, of which there have been six in the last week alone at a cost law enforcement has estimated can be as high as $10,000 a pop.
LAPD officer Sara Faden said the department is "choosing not to encourage" copycats by ceasing to issue press releases and refusing to confirm details of the incidents to members of the media without a formal public records request. A spokesperson for the FBI's L.A. field office, which assisted the LAPD in tracking down one prankster, also declined to answer any questions related to swatting.
Law enforcement may hope not talking about it will make the problem go away, but interest in swatting — a term Officer Faden calls misleading since calls are answered by regular police officers, not the department's SWAT team — does not appear to be dying down.
In the past week residences belonging to Ryan Seacrest, Russell Brand, P. Diddy, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Selena Gomez were all targeted by prank 911 calls.
On Tuesday, L.A. city council member Paul Koretz introduced a motion calling for the creation of a city ordinance that would order pranksters to repay the LAPD for costs associated with responding to calls.
The same day, in Sacramento, the first hearing was held for Senate Bill 333, introduced by state senator Ted Lieu. The measure, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department, would also force anyone arrested for making a false 911 call to repay police for the incident.
Both pieces of legislation would make callers liable for as much as $10,000 — that is, if callers are arrested at all. So far, law enforcement has demonstrated a dismal record at catching swatters.
The single recent arrest the LAPD has made in connection with a celebrity swatting attack was of a 12-year-old responsible for making calls that sent police to the homes of Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher, and a Wells Fargo branch on Wilshire Boulevard during one week in October.
The tween used a telecommunications device for the deaf, which allowed him to text 911 calls impersonating victims at different addresses. The caller requesting assistance at Kutcher's home told authorities she was hiding in a closet while Russian men ransacked the house. The caller asking for help at Bieber's home told a dispatcher shots were fired by a gunman making threats to police.
Swatting target Russell Brand didn't seem all the troubled by the "attack" on his home. Speaking about the incident, which took place Monday, on Ryan Seacrest's morning radio show on Wednesday, Brand joked, "If all swatting attacks are this unnoticeable, I'm ready for war, because I didn't even know that it had happened."
When Seacrest told Brand that law enforcement was increasing penalties on swatters to as much as three years in jail, the actor burst out laughing, "That's a bit severe!"
"But they're, but they're — this is serious stuff," Seacrest, whose home was swatted hours later, stuttered. "They are playing with fire in a way, saying there are armed attacks going on at Selena Gomez's house."
Brand was unconvinced. "I think if I were a teenager I would definitely do it," he said.