Story Summary

Celebrity “Swatting” Pranks

“Swatting” is a fast-growing phenomenon masterminded by anonymous mischief-makers who report bogus crimes at celebrity homes.

That prompts a tactical response — sometimes by SWAT officers — that involves a high-risk search for phantom assailants.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 9 updates

The LAPD announced Thursday that it would take the unusual step of no longer issuing press releases or immediately confirming instances of celebrity “swatting.”

swattingThe department says that the intense media coverage seems to be fueling more incidents.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, who oversees the LAPD Media Relations Section, said the procedural change keeping celebrity swatting calls a secret, was necessary because of concerns about the privacy of the victims as well as the belief that publicizing such incidents was emboldening copycats.

From now on, news outlets must now make a formal public records act request through the department’s discovery unit if they want information about whether officers responded to a radio call at a given address, Smith said.

By law, the unit has 10 business days to respond to such requests, and Smith said the department could reject them if disclosing that information could be seen as compromising an investigation.

“It’s our belief that the perpetrators of these false police reports are motivated entirely by the publicity these calls receive,” Smith said. “We intend to reduce or eliminate that motivation.”

Smith added that the false 911 calls were tying up critical police resources.

The term “swatting” comes from the tactical response typically generated by such calls, which usually include claims that an armed intruder is inside the celebrity’s home and that someone has been shot and wounded.

Contacts are made via text message, phone or a computer-generated report and are difficult to investigate because perpetrators can disguise the origins of their messages by using multiple computer servers and other technological means.

Celebrity targets usually are not home during such incidents, but confusion can result in injury to responding officers or to innocents who are working or staying at the celebrity’s home who may be injured because they do not immediately comply with police commands, authorities said.

In the last several months, there have been more than a dozen prank swatting calls involving celebrities.

Most of the targeted homes have been in areas patrolled by the LAPD; others were in Beverly Hills and areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, said that although sheriff’s officials “understand and share the LAPD’s concerns,” the public has “a right to know about law enforcement’s activities.”

Nonetheless, he said the Sheriff’s Department would “seriously consider whatever policies the LAPD comes up with.”

“The sheriff is pushing for enhanced punishments regarding false reports of emergencies whereby perpetrators will have to reimburse the municipality for the entire cost of the response,” Whitmore said. “The sheriff believes this legislation is important.”

Beverly Hills Police Sgt. Renato Moreno said that police officials have discussed taking steps similar to the LAPD’s, but as of yet, “no decision has been made,” he said.

“The goal is to get these incidents to stop,” Moreno said.

Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said she did not believe the LAPD was hostile to the media although the department’s action represents “a strong reaction” to the wave of swatting incidents.

“They are in a bit of a bind because people doing this crime are doing it because they want to get attention, and the LAPD doesn’t want to feed into that by notifying the media,” Levenson said.

But Levenson also noted that the media plays the critical role of keeping the public informed, which includes reporting on the epidemic of swatting calls. She said the LAPD’s approach may need refinement.

“It’s nearly impossible for the media to do its job if they don’t get timely information, so one would hope there could be a compromise,” Levenson said.

“That’s going to take media representatives sitting down with the LAPD and finding some sort of solution that does not involve turning off the spigot of information.”

Most of the celebrity calls have come this year, and authorities say that since last year there has been a huge upswing in swatting.

Miley Cyrus, targeted last July, was the first major publicized case. That was followed by a wave of calls targeting Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell and the Kardashian family.

The LAPD arrested a 12-year-old boy in connection with the Bieber and Kutcher incidents.

He eventually received a two-year sentence, but the publicity surrounding his arrest and prosecution appeared to do little to stop the celebrity swatters.

Police were called to the Playboy Mansion and the home of actor-director Clint Eastwood.

Then, last week, there was another flurry of swatting pranks against P. Diddy, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, comedian Russell Brand and entertainment personality Ryan Seacrest.

The prank targeting Seacrest came hours after the radio host spoke to Brand, whose Hollywood Hills home was hit Monday.

“’Swatting,’ I don’t like the word very much. Swatting, obviously what you do to insects or a passing bottom,” Brand joked to Seacrest on his morning radio show on KIIS-FM (102.7).

“If all swatting attacks are this unnoticeable, I’m ready for war because I didn’t even know it had happened. I still don’t know what a swatting attack is.”

–Los Angeles Times

Entertainer Ryan Seacrest is the latest celebrity victim of a so-called swatting prank, police say.

Details about the Wednesday afternoon incident were not immediately available, but the Beverly Hills Police Department said on Twitter it had responded to a “swatting call” at Seacrest’s home.

seacrestpic“No signs of trouble,” the tweet read. “Everyone OK.”

Seacrest is the sixth celebrity in a week whose Los Angeles-area home was targeted, bringing the number of such swatting incidents to nearly a dozen in recent months.

The prank came hours after the radio host spoke to comedian Russell Brand, whose Hollywood Hills home was hit Monday.

“’Swatting,’ I don’t like the word very much. Swatting, obviously what you do to insects or a passing bottom,” Brand joked to Seacrest on his morning radio show on KISS-FM (102.7).

“If all swatting attacks are this unnoticeable, I’m ready for war because I didn’t even know it had happened. I still don’t know what a swatting attack is.”

LAPD officials have expressed concern and frustration over the calls, which can be made via text, phone or a computer-generated report.

The investigations are complicated because those involved can disguise their contacts through multiple computer servers and other technological means.

The LAPD has taken steps to calibrate their responses. Only one police car was sent to check the Brand report, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith told The Times.

Dispatchers, police supervisors and officers are also being trained in an effort to identify possible false reports.

State and local officials have also joined the effort in trying to crack down on the crank calls. The calls are called “swatting” because of the SWAT-style response they trigger.

The swatters have not slowed down.

At 3:15 p.m. on Friday, officers responded to a call of shots fired at Justin Timberlake’s Hollywood Hills home but found nothing unusual, LAPD spokeswoman Norma Eisenman said.

Less than two hours later, police were sent to actress Selena Gomez’s home in Sherman Oaks after a caller reported “someone had been killed inside the residence and there was a threat to burn the home down.”

The report was false, police said.

On Thursday, a caller falsely claimed someone had been shot at Rihanna’s Pacific Palisades home. The day before, someone falsely reported an assault at Sean Combs’ Toluca Lake home.

Smith said investigators are trying to figure out how many, if any, of the calls are connected.

A 12-year-old boy was recently charged with making false threats about supposed incidents at the homes of singer Justin Bieber and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Other swatting targets have included singer Chris Brown, actor Tom Cruise, “The X Factor” judge Simon Cowell, singer Miley Cyrus and the Kardashian-Jenner family.

-Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — There’s a move afoot by state lawmakers to crack down on the practice of making false 911 calls to celebrity homes, known as “swatting.”

swatting-targetsThe term comes from the SWAT-style police response the calls can trigger.

In just the last two weeks, at least four celebrities — Russell Brand, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez – have been “swatted.”

Right now, it is just a misdemeanor to have police dispatched on a phony crime report.

On Tuesday, the state Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to approve a bill by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) to make those convicted of such false calls responsible for paying restitution.

The cost of the police response can be in the thousands of dollars, according to officials.

Lieu also emphasized the danger of making false 911 calls, saying police arriving with guns drawn could end up running into private security guards at homes of celebrities.

“The result of this, sooner or later, is going to be injury or death,” he said.

The measure was backed by Lt. Wayne Bilowit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who said a large number of the 400 swatting incidents nationwide have occurred in his county.

“This is unfortunately a growing phenomenon,’’ he told the legislators.

Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said the proposed new law would provide a “strong disincentive’’ once it is applied a few times.

The bill originally would have also required a minimum jail sentence of 120 days.

However, that section was taken out by Lieu to eliminate costs to the state and address opposition from the California Attorneys for Civil Justice.

-KTLA/Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles police responded to the home of comedian Russell Brand on Monday afternoon, the latest celebrity targeted in a wave of “swatting” calls.

russell-brandThe call, which was reported shortly before 4 p.m., allegedly involved an armed suspect at Brand’s residence in the 1800 block of Doheny Drive.

That brings the number of such ‘swatting’ incidents to nearly a dozen in recent months.

The LAPD, which is investigating the source of the reports, has expressed concern and anger in the wake of the onslaught, which includes texts, calls or computer-generated reports.

Such investigations can be difficult because those who are involved can disguise their contacts through multiple computer servers  and other technological means.

In an effort to calibrate their response, one LAPD car was sent to check the report, which proved to be bogus, said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith.

The LAPD is trying to crack down on the practice by training dispatchers, police supervisors and officers to identify possible crank callers.

The LAPD is already investigating phony 911 calls  involving the homes of Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Sean Combs.

At 3:15 p.m. Friday, officers responded to a call of shots fired at Timberlake’s Hollywood Hills home but found nothing unusual, said LAPD spokeswoman Norma Eisenman.

Less than two hours later, police were sent to Gomez’s home in Sherman Oaks after a caller reported “someone had been killed inside the residence and there was a threat to burn the home down.”

The report was false, police said.

On Thursday, a caller falsely claimed someone had been shot at Rihanna’s Pacific Palisades home.

The day before, someone falsely reported an assault at Combs’ Toluca Lake home.

Smith said investigators are trying to figure out how many, if any, of the calls are connected.

A 12-year-old boy was recently charged with making false threats about supposed incidents at the homes of singer Justin Bieber and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Other swatting targets have included Rihanna’s singer boyfriend Chris Brown, actor Tom Cruise, “The X Factor” judge Simon Cowell, singer Miley Cyrus and the Kardashian-Jenner family.

-Los Angeles Times

selena-gomezLOS ANGELES — Three celebrity swatting incidents in 2 days have police on edge.

The latest case involves actress Selena Gomez.

According to TMZ, a swatter called 911 and told the dispatcher… her dad killed her mom with a gun that was among a cache of 20 weapons located inside the Tarzana home.

The swatter then said the dad was going to burn the house down.

That incident came less than 2 hours after a similar report at the home of Justin Timberlake in the Hollywood Hills.

TMZ reports that in this case, the 911 caller claimed 4 black males entered the house and 2 shots were fired and they left a box with red blinking lights.

On Thursday, a 911 caller reported that someone had been shot inside the Pacific Palisades home of singer Rihanna.

In the Rihanna case, emergency dispatchers received the call shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday reporting that someone had been shot and wounded inside the singer’s home in the 900 block of Rivas Canyon Road, said LAPD officer Bruce Borihahn.

Officers secured the location and quickly determined the call was a hoax.

Rihanna, whose real name is Robyn Fenty, was not home when police responded to her home.

The incident comes a day after someone contacted police saying there was an assault at Sean Combs’ Toluca Lake home. Combs also was not home at the time and police found no evidence of a crime.

No one was hurt in either case, but police said those who engage in swatting — which gets its name from the large tactical response that can occur in such cases — should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The increasing number of such incidents targeting celebrities has California lawmakers considering implementing harsher penalties for such crimes.

Rihanna’s boyfriend Chris Brown was also a recent victim of swatting, when someone contacted police and reported domestic violence and a possible shooting at the singer’s Hollywood Hills home.

Before that incident, a caller falsely reported shots fired at actor Tom Cruise’s Beverly Hills home.

LOS ANGELES — A 12-year-old admitted to 2 counts in connection with “swatting” calls to police that sent officers to the homes of actor Ashton Kutcher and singer Justin Bieber.

The unidentified juvenile, was charged in February with four felony counts of making false bomb threats and computer intrusion.

A misdemeanor was added to the juvenile petition Monday: falsely reporting an emergency in connection to a call at the home of  Bieber.

The two other felony counts and the misdemeanor are expected to be dismissed at sentencing.

The term “swatting” refers to prank calls reporting a violent crime with the aim of earning a tactical police response that may include a SWAT team.

The incident at Kutcher’s home on Arrowhead Drive happened in early October.

Police received a report through a TTY device, generally used by deaf people to type text over the telephone, about armed men inside Kutcher’s home.

They briefly held some workers there at gunpoint before reaching Kutcher and concluding it was a hoax.

Other celebrities have been the target of swatting pranks, including Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown.

Police say the calls tie up resources and unnecessarily put officers as well as citizens in potentially dangerous situations.

A sentencing hearing has not been set for the boy, whose case in expected to be transferred to the county where the boy currently resides.

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Clint Eastwood is the latest victim of a celebrity “swatting” hoax, according to authorities.

eastwood-picPolice responded to his Los Angeles home this week after a relay service called 911, reporting a shooting and multiple men armed with assault weapons.

Officers arrived and found no evidence of anything amiss.

It remains unclear if anyone was home at the time of the prank.

The incident is the latest in a strong of so-called “swatting” hoaxes involving celebrities.

The term “swatting” refers to making bogus 911 calls in order to elicit an urgent police response, sometimes including SWAT teams.

Past targets have included Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise and Chris Brown.

A 12-year-old boy was recently charged in connection with an incident at Ashton Kutcher’s home last October.

HOLMBY HILLS, Calif. (KTLA) — Police responded to a reported assault at the Playboy Mansion on Thursday, but found no evidence of any crime.

mansion-picLAPD Cmdr. Any Smith confirmed that officers were called to the famous property on Charring Cross Road.

KTLA’s Sky5 was overhead around 6:30 a.m. and spotted multiple police units as well as officers walking around the premises.

Smith said that officers were unable to find any evidence that an assault had taken place.

The Los Angeles Fire Department also said it did not transport anyone from the location.

A spokesperson for Playboy said that someone made a prank call to police.

According to TMZ though, police do not believe the incident is the latest example of so-called celebrity “swatting.”

The term “swatting” refers to the practice of making a prank 911 call to elicit a SWAT team response at the homes of celebrities.

However, in this case, only two squad cars responded to the home and authorities say the caller may have actually believed an assault took place.

Targets of swatting pranks have included Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise and Chris Brown.

A 12-year-old boy has been charged in connection with the incident at Kutcher’s home, which happened last October.

Police briefly held some workers there at gunpoint before reaching Kutcher and concluding it was a hoax.

Authorities say the phony calls tie up resources and unnecessarily put officers as well as citizens in potentially dangerous situations.

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (KTLA) — Singer Chris Brown appears to be the latest target of the dangerous practice of celebrity “swatting.”

Police responded to his Hollywood Hills home around 5 p.m. Monday after they received a call about a domestic violence incident.

When they arrived, members of Brown’s staff were at the home, but the singer was not.

Police searched the home and found no evidence of any problems.

The incident is the latest in a string of “swatting” hoaxes involving celebrity homes.

The practice involves making false 911 calls that elicit a tactical police response, sometimes including SWAT teams.

Over the weekend, someone called 911 and falsely reported an emergency at a former Malibu residence of the Kardashians.

After finding the house empty, deputies contacted the family and went to their new home about 20 miles away in Hidden Hills.

Last week, Beverly Hills police responded to a call about an armed robbery at Tom Cruise’s house that turned out to be fake.

Other hoax calls have been made involving the homes of Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Miley Cyrus.

A 12-year-old boy has been charged in connection with the reports involving Bieber and Kutcher.