Calif. Assemblyman Mike GattoSACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Calif. Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) legislation to criminalize the dangerous and increasingly prevalent crime known as “swatting”, was approved by the California State Assembly today by a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 76-0. The bill, AB 47, is the legislature’s most comprehensive legislation to address the issue, and the only pending bill to increase criminal penalties for swatting.

Swatting is a perilous prank by anonymous mischief-makers who alert police to a bogus crime situation, prompting a tactical response — often by special weapons and tactics (SWAT) officers — that then involves a high-risk search for phantom assailants.

There have been more than a dozen such calls in the last five months and several law enforcement officers have already been injured. Many officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, fear that it’s only a matter of time before events turn deadly. Some of the calls have been focused on humiliating celebrities like Justin Bieber and Rihanna, but other victims have been targeted for their political beliefs, including a political blogger. The prank has also been perpetrated against non-public figures in quiet neighborhoods, including suburban families.

“Police fear that this potential deadly prank will become more prevalent if we do not do something to elevate swatting to a serious crime. This common-sense legislation will discourage this dangerous activity and allow law enforcement to deploy their officers and precious resources to real crimes-in-progress,” said Gatto.

Under the provisions of AB 47, anyone who makes a swatting call would be subject to a $2,000 fine and a year in jail, and significantly increased fine and jail time if the call results in bodily harm. The bill further stipulates that any swatting call that results in a death can be considered manslaughter. Assemblyman Gatto introduced AB 47 on December 19, 2012, even before the recent spate of high-profile swatting incidents.

“Swatting is a dangerous prank that costs local governments and homeowners thousands of dollars and takes public-safety resources away from real emergencies,” said Gatto. “It is only a matter of time before someone is struck by an emergency-response vehicle or a firearm is accidentally discharged in a moment of chaos.”

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.