A South Bay senator will introduce a bill that could stiffen penalties for many who make false 911 calls.

Torrance Sen. Ted Lieu said he wants to crack down on `swatting' - a relatively recent phenomenon in which people make 911 calls alleging emergencies at the homes of celebrities and public officials. As has recently happened to Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, the suspects make it seem as if the calls are actually coming from the celebrity's home.

The fake calls often allege serious crimes, such as hostage taking, and police tend to arrive en masse. The bill is supported by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"It is draining vital law enforcement resources and putting law enforcement officers in sometimes tense and dangerous situations," Lieu said.

Current law makes it illegal to make a false 911 call, but Lieu, an attorney, said it is difficult to charge defendants with felonies. Unless prosecutors can prove an intent to cause bodily harm, they must charge defendants with a far less serious misdemeanor.

Under Lieu's proposed new policies, more false 911 calls would qualify as felonies, and defendants could face as much as three years in jail. Lieu said he also wants anyone convicted of making a false call to pay restitution to law enforcement.

While "swatting" calls against celebrities receive a lot of attention, Lieu acknowledged that there have been relatively few serious cases of the phenomenon. But he said even a few calls put law enforcement officials in an uncomfortable situation, especially when they respond to calls at a celebrity home and do not know what to expect.

"As these perpetrators learn how to do this, the fear is that these incidents will start to increase," Lieu said. "We want to put an end to this as early as we can."

brian.sumers@dailybreeze.com

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