Celebs now fashionable targets in hoax 911 calls
FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2012 file photo, Justin Bieber accepts the award for favorite album - pop/rock for "Believe" at the 40th Anniversary American Music Awards, in Los Angeles. Bieber is one of several stars whose homes have been targeted by pranksters who place fake 911calls to try to draw out large police responses in a hoax known as swatting. The rash of calls against celebrities is taxing police resources and prompted two California lawmakers to propose stiffer penalties for convicted swatters. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Celebrities have long contended with the occasional downsides of stardom — tabloid scandals, stalkers, box office bombs, the paparazzi. Now, add "swatting" to the list — a prank that sends police charging to the gates of stars' homes on false reports of gunmen, hostages or other crimes in progress.
Instead of bad guys, responding officers, police dogs, helicopters and sometimes SWAT teams have found only stunned domestic and security staff unaware of any trouble — because there wasn't any.
The recent hoax 911 calls to the homes of Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher, Chris Brown and other stars are leading authorities to eye some 911 calls with extra suspicion and lawmakers to call for stiffer penalties for the pranksters.
"This is a very vexing problem that needs to be fixed at the early stages," said California State Sen. Ted Lieu, who is proposing tough consequences, including hefty fines, for those caught swatting. "If this isn't resolved, this will result in a tragic situation."
Swatting is the rare trend that actually didn't start in Hollywood. Authorities in Dallas, Washington state, Alabama and elsewhere have arrested teens and young men for bogus 911 calls that have drawn large police responses and in some cases, resulted in innocent people being detained by police.
The term comes from the pranksters' desire to have heavily armed special weapons teams dispatched to their calls. That doesn't always happen, but the calls tie up resources ranging from dispatchers, patrol officers, helicopters, detectives and cyber-crime specialists.
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2013 file photo, US actor Tom Cruise poses for photographers during a news conference of his film "Jack Reacher" in Tokyo. Cruise is one of several stars whose homes have been targeted by pranksters who place fake 911 calls to try to draw out large police responses in a hoax known as swatting. A hoax call on Jan. 17, 2013 tied up half of Beverly Hills’ emergency responders and remains under investigation. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye, File)
The Beverly Hills Police Department estimated more than half of its emergency resources were occupied with the Cruise swatting call on Jan. 17. It was just one of a rash of calls aimed at celebrities over the next several days, including a false claim there was a domestic violence incident at Brown's home.
"We're getting much better at deciphering what is real and what is not," said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The agency has handled calls at Bieber's home and a former Kardashian family home.