Georgia bill would impose harsher penalties on more ‘swatting’ calls

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia would strengthen penalties against false reports of shootings and bomb threats at homes, known as swatting, under a bill passed Monday by the state House.

The measure would also define a drive-by shooting as a separate crime.

The House voted 162-2 for Senate Bill 421, sending it back to the Senate because the House amended it to add the drive-by shooting provisions.

Georgia elected officials in December experienced a spate of swatting calls — prank calls to emergency services to prompt a response to a particular address, particularly a SWAT team. Among those targeted were multiple state senators, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Jones said his home in a small town south of Atlanta was swatted, only to have a bomb threat called in the next day.

It’s already a crime in Georgia to make such false reports, but first offenses right now are misdemeanors unless they are directed at critical infrastructure.

The bill would also make a first offense a felony if it were aimed at a dwelling or a place of worship. The measure also increases the felony penalty for second offenses, making the minimum prison sentence five years, instead of one year. It also adds stronger penalties for a third offense, requiring a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

The measure also requires that a someone convicted make up for any monetary losses by property owners or expenditures by a responding agency, including restitution for property damages or the cost of treating injuries.

“Those folks will be behind bars that are doing the swatting,” said state Rep. Matt Reeves, a Republican from Duluth.

Georgia is the latest state to consider stricter swatting penalties. Ohio last year made it a felony offense to report a false emergency that prompts response by law enforcement. And Virginia increased the penalties for swatting to up to 12 months in jail.

Some swatting injuries have led to police shooting people, and officials say they also worry about diverting resources from real emergencies.

The Georgia law would also define a drive-by shooting as a separate crime. Supporters say it’s needed because some shooters have escaped criminal penalties because current law is not precisely defined. The new crime would require a sentence of five to 20 years for shooting into an occupied dwelling or motor vehicle. It would also make it a crime that qualifies as a racketeering offense under Georgia’s anti-racketeering law.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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