Patterico's Pontifications


L.A. Times Covers SWATting on Front Page

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:16 am

Using Simon Cowell’s recent SWATting as a news peg, Chris Lee and Richard Winton have a front-page story at the L.A. Times about the phenomenon of SWATting. The story focuses on the recent rash of celebrity SWATtings in Los Angeles, rather than the politically motivated SWATtings of four people (including myself) between June 2011 and June 2012. Hey, the news biz is all about eyeballs! However, the article does mentions the SWATtings of myself and Aaron Walker.

If you’re looking for a typical Patterico polemic on the atrocities of the L.A. Times, you’re going to be disappointed. I spoke to reporter Chris Lee for the story a few weeks ago, and he pretty much gets it right:

When Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Frey got swatted at his Rancho Palos Verdes home last July, he thought it might have been in retaliation for posts on his conservative-leaning Patterico’s Pontifications blog.

In full view of his startled neighbors, Frey was led out in shackles by five armed deputies after a male caller told responders at the Lomita sheriff’s station that the deputy district attorney had shot his wife. Outside were four police cruisers, a fire truck, an ambulance, a hazardous materials van and a chopper shining a spotlight over his property. Frey’s wife was awakened and frisked by police on the front porch while two officers checked on the couple’s 8- and 11-year-old children sleeping upstairs.

“I’m dealing with psychopaths who know where I live,” Frey said. “Someone had it in for me so much, they committed an act they knew could get me killed.” No arrests have been made in the case.

In June, another lawyer-blogger, Aaron Walker, was swatted at his home in Prince William County, Va. Two officers wielding M4 assault rifles showed up at Walker’s town house and ordered him out. The attorney de-escalated the tension, however, by telling the patrolmen: “Let me guess, someone called and claimed I shot my wife.”

“I believe this to be reckless endangerment if not attempted murder,” Walker said. “The intent there was to cause harm. The other angle is, [swatting] degrades the police’s ability to trust 911. It used to be they had some degree of trust knowing people had a fear of filing a false police report.”

I think the editors should have explained that Aaron had been my guest blogger, and knew it had already happened to me and two other conservatives who had written about related topics. That information would have helped readers understand how Aaron knew he had been SWATted. And I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the political SWATtings and potentially related harassment — including the details of the SWATtings of Erick Erickson and Mike Stack, and the curious way in which we and our writings have been the particular obsession of a dangerous group of online lunatics.

I nevertheless tip my hat to the L.A. Times for finally covering the phenomenon in general, and giving it the front-page placement the topic merits. The story does a good job portraying the potential dangers of the phenomenon:

“Swatting is a very real problem for those in the public eye,” said Blair Berk, a criminal lawyer who has represented stars including Mel Gibson, Kanye West and Lindsay Lohan. “It is only a matter of time before someone dies because of this stupidity.”

What started a decade ago as a malicious prank among computer gamers is quickly evolving into a Grade-A crisis for law enforcement nationwide, encouraging new legislation aimed at stiffer punishments for swatters as well as redoubled attempts to defeat the “spoofing” technology that enables such cyber-troublemaking.

[LAPD] Chief [Charlie] Beck acknowledged that swatting has stretched the LAPD’s emergency response capacity while also endangering victims by placing them in potential confrontation with police firepower.

“It not only draws public safety resources away from real emergencies, it places people at significant risk by the dispatch of armed police officers,” said Beck. “Our big fear is that [swatting] will become more prevalent.”

And I learned something I didn’t know before — namely, that SWATting has already caused heart attacks:

Kevin Kolbye, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas FBI office, began fielding swatting probes in 2007. He views the phenomenon’s rapid growth in recent years as a dangerous replacement for a time-honored practical joke.

“You no longer call pizza [to someone’s house] like in the old days,” said Kolbye. “Instead, the young generation are getting their kicks putting a lot of people at risk. We’ve already had a couple of heart attacks and an officer hurt in a collision responding to a scene.”

Given how serious the dangers are, people are considering legislation to increase punishments for these sorts of false reports:

One major stumbling block to police efforts, however, is California law. At present, making a false police report is a misdemeanor. But departments across L.A. County are beginning to realize that many jurisdictions are wasting valuable resources on swatting call-outs. “We are going to approach the Legislature with the idea of making swatting a felony,” McSweeney said.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) oversees a district that includes such celebrity-studded areas as Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Pacific Palisades. He is looking into proposing legislation that would make it easier for district attorneys to make swatting a felony offense.

“There may be other ways to do it in which you wouldn’t need a law,” Lieu said. “But if they can’t fix it — if they can’t figure out a way to easily trace the people who make these very dangerous 911 calls — I would introduce a bill to try to mitigate the problem.

“The issue is, people have figured out how to do this,” Lieu said, “and it’s only going to get worse unless you can put some consequences in place.”

California law on this is especially disappointing. Penal Code section 148.3(b) makes such false reports a felony if the person making the false report “knows or should know that the response to the report is likely to cause death or great bodily injury, and great bodily injury or death is sustained by any person as a result of the false report.” And if someone is actually badly hurt or killed, the maximum punishment is? A whopping 3 years in state prison. Wait, did I say state prison? Sorry, under realignment, these days that piddling sentence would be served in a county jail. People would serve only half that time — and in Los Angeles, Sheriff Lee Baca could let them go any time he decided the jails were too crowded, whether the sentence was completed or not.

Given these meager penalties, it’s not surprising that I have been contacted by people on both the state and federal level looking to change the law, and asking me about my experience in that regard. If nothing else, today’s front-page story may help get the ball rolling on changing the law. And hopefully the public interest will also motivate law enforcement to solve all these cases.

I still think they’re solvable, if the police try hard enough.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

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