Hollywood police plagued by new craze for hoax emergency calls


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The Independent US

At around 3.30pm on Monday, the Los Angeles Police Department dispatched a squad car to Russell Brand's home in the Hollywood Hills. For once, it was not the comic who was the cause, but a hoax 911 caller, who claimed two armed men were approaching the house wearing bulletproof vests. When the police arrived, however, only the housekeeper was at home.

Brand was the latest target of "celebrity swatting", a craze sweeping Hollywood, distracting police resources and potentially endangering lives. After the incident, Brand was interviewed by the radio host Ryan Seacrest. Hours later, Seacrest himself was swatted.

Swatting's name comes from the armed Swat teams that answer 911 calls about a violent crime in progress. The callers are skilled at the pretence, describing the gunmen, hostages and the wounded in lurid detail.

About 400 such incidents are reported each year nationwide, but they have gained greater prominence since pranksters turned their attention last year to LA's entertainment community. Seacrest was the sixth celebrity swatting victim in a week.

Hollywood police arrested a 12-year-old computer whizz in December over the swatting of Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher. The boy was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention, but the swattings continued.

In his interview with Seacrest, Brand said: "I suppose what would be bad is if police were attending a swatting and an actual crime happened, and it took police too long to get there because they are doing a swatting," he said. "Other than that, it does sound like a laugh. I say that as a swatting victim. I think if I was a teenager, I probably would definitely do it."

The LAPD is less amused. The department has prepared officers to anticipate false alarms, which may be why a single squad car went to Brand's house.

California lawmakers are drafting new legislation to combat the phenomenon, including forcing those convicted of swatting to pay for the cost of the response. The Kutcher celebrity swatting cost about $10,000 (£6,500) – for 42 police officers, a helicopter and several fire trucks.