Swatting: Calling 9-1-1 and faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement. The gerund, which is relatively new, is derived from the acronym SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), which was first used by big-city police departments in the mid-1960s.
Last week six Los Angeles-area celebrities were the targets of swatting, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. On April 8, L.A. police responded to a swatting call at the home of comedian Russell Brand, who was away from home at the time. Two days later, the Beverly Hills Police Department responded to a similar call at Ryan Seacrest’s home. Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and Sean Combs have also been targeted. According to the New York Times:
What once was merely a police annoyance in Southern California — thrill-seeking pranksters filing a false report of a breaking horrific crime at celebrity’s home, designed to provoke the dispatch of SWAT teams — has turned in recent weeks into a full-blown “swatting” epidemic, drawing expressions of concerns from police officials and victims alike, and the promise of a crackdown by lawmakers in Sacramento and at Los Angeles City Hall.
The earliest references I found for “swatting” are from 2007 and do not involve famous names. In March of that year, SWAT teams in Orange County, California, showed up with assault rifles, dogs, and a helicopter at what a caller had described as the scene of a murderous rampage. A 19-year-old Washington State man was arrested seven months later on felony charges of endangering the homeowners’ lives. According to police, the man had hacked into the county’s 9-1-1 system from his home hundreds of miles away and placed a call that appeared to come from the scene of the crime.
Similar crimes were reported in Texas around the same time.
In February 2008 the FBI posted a warning on its website:
Needless to say, these calls are dangerous to first responders and to the victims. The callers often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.
In Los Angeles last Thursday, the L.A.P.D. announced “that it would take the unusual step of no longer issuing press releases or immediately confirming instances of celebrity ‘swatting,’ saying intense media coverage seems to be fueling more incidents.”