'Swatting' calls target celebs

28 January 2013 - 02:10 By Sapa

Celebrities have long contended with the downsides of stardom: tabloid scandals, stalkers, box-office bombs and the paparazzi.

Now, add "swatting" - a prank that sends the police charging to the doors 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 calling police 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 senator Ted Lieu, who is proposing tough consequences, including hefty fines, for those caught swatting.

"If this isn't resolved it will result in a tragic situation."

Swatting is one of those rare trends that didn't start in Hollywood. Authorities in Dallas, Texas, in Washington state, Alabama and elsewhere, have arrested teens and young men for bogus 911 calls that in some instances resulted in innocent people being detained by the 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, including dispatchers, patrol officers, helicopters and cyber-crime specialists.

The Beverly Hills Police Department estimated that more than half of its emergency resources were occupied with the Cruise swatting call recently.

It was just one of a rash of recent calls aimed at celebrities, including a false claim that there was a domestic violence incident at Brown's home.