After the call came in to the Delaware County 911 center from a Utah area code, SWAT officers surrounded the Springfield Township home. The caller had reported that a man at that address had just shot his children and was threatening to kill his wife.

In neighboring Marple Township, a SWAT team responded to another home after someone called to say he was being held hostage by a man armed with an assault rifle and explosives.

In both cases, the first in 2010 and the other three years later, the calls were frightening - and fake.

SWATing - the cyber version of pulling a false alarm - has unnerved families and police, and cost taxpayers untold thousands of dollars.

Under a proposed bill, law enforcement officials nationwide might soon have an easier time prosecuting criminals who make those hoax calls and recouping some of the dollars spent calling out SWAT teams.

Reps. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) and Katherine Clark (D., Mass.) recently introduced the "Interstate Swatting Hoax Act," under which offenders could be prosecuted under federal law and subject to stronger penalties.

On Friday, Meehan,; Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan, and several local law enforcement officers, including Marple Township Police Chief Tom Murray, were at the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center in Lima to talk about how to address false SWAT incidents.

"Our department was on the hook for $10,000 of taxpayer dollars for a hoax," Murray said. In all, he said, seven police departments responded to that call, and it took investigators two months to finally bring charges.

The proposed legislation would close a prosecutorial loophole, said Meehan. Federal law prohibits using the telecommunications system for reporting fake bomb threats or terrorist attacks, but doesn't cover other situations.

Under the bill, if convicted of a criminal act, callers could be fined and face up to five years if SWAT teams responded to the hoax. If serious injuries resulted, the prison term could be up to 20 years, and if a death occurred, possibly a life term. Those convicted also could be subject to civil sanctions and have to pay any costs incurred by law enforcement.

The law would make it easier for the FBI to help investigate the crimes, which often involve multiple police jurisdictions in different states, said Meehan, a former prosecutor.

"This is not just something that is local," Meehan said. Nationally, there are about 400 incidents a year, he said.

Clint Eastwood, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber are among those who have been victims.

610-313-8111 @MariSchaefer