For Police: Best Practices in Stalking Investigations


Basics of law enforcement response and the early recognition of potential stalking cases are critical to aid in victims’ safety. Many stalking cases do come to the attention of the police early in the stalking behaviors, and appropriate stalker interventions by law enforcement can often stop the stalking behaviors before serious crimes or injuries occur. However, not all cases are referred or readily identified through standard means or channels.
Law enforcement officers need to develop ways to identify these cases. By the time some stalking cases reach the attention of law enforcement or the courts, criminal offenses have already been committed that pose serious risks to the safety of the victims, and therefore require an affirmative response to reduce the risks for the victim.
The first responder should take whatever steps are reasonably necessary to protect the victim. Generalizing about what a stalking victim should do in any particular case can be dangerous. Not all stalkers are the same, nor are they predictable. Most stalking victims are afraid of their stalker whether they have been expressly threatened with harm or not. But the degree to which the stalker really poses a threat is often difficult to assess. However, it is generally agreed that the domestic violence stalker may pose the highest risk of all.
Suspect Contact by Law Enforcement
Law enforcement contact, especially by an investigator or detective, can be an effective means of deterring stalkers, particularly in cases where the victim and the suspect had some prior relationship and where the stalker is not suffering from mental illness.
This type of stalker is more likely to understand an officer’s explanation of the potential consequences of his continued harassment or escalation of stalking behaviors. This type of warning contact is most appropriate when the behavior does not yet constitute a full violation of law or involves very low-grade activities. It can include contact by mail through a police warning letter, a phone call, or an in-person visit. Often, a face-to-face visit at the suspect’s workplace or residence may be all it takes to have a deterrent effect on the inappropriate behavior. This type of contact can also occur by way of a scheduled interview at the police station.
1. The goals of stalker-focused interventions are:
a. To establish that stalkers are strictly and solely accountable for their own actions, and to hold them to the standards established by law.
b. Through community collaborative efforts, send the message that stalking is considered a serious matter, and to establish a “social hold” over the abuser. (This includes seriously establishing bail, conditions of pre-trial release, terms of protective orders, conditions of probation, and the terms of custody/visitation and support with the intent of constraining the stalker’s behavior.)
2. Stalker interventions that may involve law enforcement:
a. Contact by a law enforcement officer.
b. Counter-stalking and other anti-stalking surveillance and apprehension measures, including technological monitoring both pretrial and post-conviction.
c. Temporary/permanent orders of protection (including orders issued on behalf of non-victim witnesses).
d. Arrest and detention for victim-directed criminal conduct.
e. Arrest and detention for other criminal conduct (such as independent criminal activity, possession or sale of illegal drugs, weapons charges, or probation or parole violations).
f. Revocation of weapon permits/weapons confiscation (by search warrant or court order, whether as a condition of bail or through a restraining/protective order).
g. Officers may appear at bail arraignments and hearings to inform the court about stalkers history.
h. Case management – Involves developing a plan that moves the suspect away from feeling violence against the victim as a viable option. At times, effective case management may require the investigator to draw on
resources connected to the suspect, but not traditionally used by law enforcement, such as friends family associates, employers, mental health, social services, and other community members. All of these contacts may be used in seeking to lead the suspect to formulate more appropriate goals.
These guidelines will describe best practices to enhance police responses to stalking. Its focus is collaborative community partnerships and best practice guidelines to help police departments address stalking more effectively and appropriately. Stalking is not a new phenomenon, but has only recently been recognized as a significant and widespread problem. It differs from many other crimes in at least two respects. By definition, it is a form of repeat victimization–behavior constituting a series of incidents rather than a single criminal act. It is also a crime that is defined, in part, by its impact on the victim–by the fear it induces.
Individual stalking incidents looked at in isolation often appear innocent. But once identified as part of a pattern of behavior of unwanted contact imposed on the victim by the perpetrator, it’s another story. Whether they are linked to domestic violence or involve perpetrators who are acquaintances or strangers, stalking incidents become threatening and sinister, even in the absence of any overt threats to harm the victim. In a significant number of cases, stalking is in fact, a precursor to lethal violence.
The fear induced by stalking, the drastic way it disrupts victims’ lives, and the real dangers faced by many victims all demand effective intervention by law enforcement. Yet, stalking is exceptionally difficult to police – difficult to investigate, prosecute, and prevent – and the majority of police departments in the United States lack clearly defined policies to deal with it.
Traditional “reactive” policing is ill-suited to the challenges because it means waiting for something to happen and then responding. Where there is an ever-present risk that stalking will cross over into physical violence, and victim safety and prevention are the priorities, such an approach inevitably falls short. Stalking by its nature calls for early intervention, preventive action, and proactive problem-solving, these are the hallmarks of community policing.
According to the Statewide Survey of Victimization in New Mexico conducted by Betty Caponera, Ph.D. with the New Mexico Sexual Assault Coalition, it’s estimated that nearly one in four women and one in fourteen men are stalked at least once in their lifetime in the State of New Mexico. Increasing awareness about the impact of stalking has prompted the the New Mexico legislature to pass anti-stalking laws.
However, while enacting legislation is a critical step, laws alone accomplish little without clear anti-stalking policies and effective enforcement on the ground. Yet, most law enforcement agencies across the country have not adopted distinct polices and procedures for intervention in stalking cases. It is therefore not surprising that nearly twenty percent of the stalking victims say that police departments did absolutely nothing in response to their complaints.
The New Mexico Sexual Assault Coalition received a grant to develop guidelines to encourage best practices for law enforcement officers in order to improve law enforcement response to stalking in New Mexico. A committee consisting of various disciplines assisted in creating these guidelines.
Since each jurisdiction is unique, these guidelines contain examples of strategies and approaches to help dispatchers, responding officers, investigators, detectives, victim service providers, and victims in stalking investigations. Depending on the size of the jurisdiction and law enforcement agency, in some cases the initial officer will do the entire case from beginning to end. In other agencies, where case responsibility is split, the patrol officer may document a single crime of stalking and/or violation of a restraining order, and an investigator / detective will do the followup work. Whichever system is used, it is critical that all law enforcement officers and those involved in stalking response understand the risks to the safety of the stalking victim.
This stalking guide to encourage best investigative practices is based on the premise that a comprehensive, coordinated, community response is the best way to effectively address the needs of stalking victims and hold stalkers accountable. It is designed to clarify the nature of stalking and map out ways in which law enforcement can work collaboratively with community stakeholders to improve their responses to stalking.
Stalking cases present a unique and ongoing threat to the victim, the seriousness of which is difficult to predict and may involve ongoing behavior by a suspect that can literally last for years. Due to the difficult and dangerous nature of this conduct, law enforcement throughout the State of New Mexico should act quickly to investigate all harassment, threatening behavior, and stalking reports in a manner that will protect the victim and facilitate the arrest of the stalker.
Emphasis should be on providing as many measures of safety for the victim as possible through all available strategies and interventions.
Law Enforcement should convey sensitivity to victims and an attitude that stalking is criminal behavior and will not be tolerated. Law Enforcement should treat all acts of stalking as criminal conduct, determining if probable cause exists for an arrest, and then taking the appropriate action. Law Enforcement should make efforts to ensure that victims are informed of all available services within the department and the community.
Investigation of a Stalking Case
Evidence collection is an essential part of the investigation in order to establish corroboration of the stalking conduct. It is vital that the investigator learns as much as possible about the stalker and his/her method of operation. Assessment of the potential threat posed by the suspect is also essential. Due to the potential danger inherent in stalking situation, threat assessment must be an ongoing part of any stalking case.
The three basic questions an investigator must answer while conducting any stalking investigation or threat assessment are:
1) Who is the suspect?
2) What risks of violence does the suspect pose to the victim?
3) How does the investigator manage the suspect and dangers posed to the victim?
Evidence Collection
a. Initially, responding officers should look for evidence that identifies and describes the suspect, such as:
1) Name
2) Description
3) Personal information
4) Residence
5) Place of work
6) Mode of transportation
7) Vehicle make and model
8) License plate number
b. Evidence collection from the victim
Be sure to impound any tangible items of evidence from the victim that corroborates the stalking behavior.
Things to be seized may include:
1. Any letters or notes written by the suspect to the victim. Keep latent print and DNA possibilities in mind when handling these items.
2. Any objects sent to the victim or left for the victim, including “gifts” or flowers.
3. Any answering machine tapes, voice mail, or other forms of taped phone messages. Document time and date. Make a tape recording of these messages to submit as evidence. This documents not only content but also tone of communication.
4. Any telephone call trace or phone trap information from the telephone company (e.g., Call Trace/Caller ID/*57 records for the victim’s phone).
5. Any evidence of phone tapping by the suspect.
6. Any log/journal/diary of suspect contacts that the victim may have been keeping which shows any dates, times, and locations of suspect encounters.
c. Police-generated evidence collection
1) Law enforcement officers should consider using search warrants in these cases. Serving a search warrant on the suspect’s residence, vehicle, and workplace can be an invaluable tool in obtaining evidence to support the charge of stalking and in providing pertinent information about the stalker.
Items to be alert for when serving a warrant:
a) Any photographs of the victim. Many times these will have comments or drawings on them.
b) Photographs, diagrams, or drawings of the victim’s home or workplace.
c) Writings, journals, logs, or diaries kept by the suspect that describe his stalking activities or thoughts/fantasies about the victim or other victims.
d) Personal items belonging to the victim.
e) Video or cassette tapes that might have information concerning the stalking, such as surveillance footage.
f) Books describing stalking techniques or having a subject matter dealing with stalking, harassment, or violence.
g) Any keys that fit the house or vehicle of the victim.
h) Any equipment that appears to have been used to stalk the victim, such as cameras, binoculars, video recorders, computers, fax machines, etc.
2) Any videotape surveillance or still photography of the stalker generated by law enforcement officers should be collected as evidence.
3) Any security video (from grocery stores, banks, parking lot/workplace security cameras) that is evidence of the suspect stalking the victim should be collected.
4) Telephone records of the suspect. Consider seizing the suspect’s/defendant’s cellular phone.
5) Documentation of email sent by the stalker to the victim. (Note: Internet service providers only keep email records for one to five days. Police have to obtain a search warrant; however, a phone call or fax to the provider may be enough to freeze the suspect’s account until a search warrant is completed.
6) Certified copies of police reports from other jurisdictions, convictions sheets, prior restraining orders, etc. should be collected as evidence.
d. Further corroboration evidence collection by law enforcement:
1) Photograph any items vandalized, damaged, written on, etc.
2) Check for fingerprints or DNA on vandalized items or other objects sent to or left for the victim.
3) Ask the victim to contact the phone company to have a trap installed on her/his phone.
4) If the victim’s phone is not set up to record messages or conversations, have the victim obtain such a machine.
5) For any incident of harassment, determine whether other witnesses were present and interview them. Often friends, family members, coworkers, employees, employers, etc. have information regarding the suspect’s behavior. This corroboration is crucial.
6) Research the suspect’s whereabouts during the times of alleged acts to deter “alibi” defenses.
7) On serious cases, consider surveillance of the suspect. This may be particularly useful in a case where there appears to be a specific pattern to the suspect’s conduct. (Threat assessment in each case should help assist in determining whether or not surveillance is needed.)
e. The New Mexico stalking statute requires proof not only of the suspect’s intent and conduct, but the victim’s state of mind. The crime of stalking requires that the victim actually feels frightened, intimidated or threatened.
Showing the victim’s state of mind:
1) Moved to a new location?
2) Obtained a new phone number? (Sometimes it is advantageous for the victim to keep the old phone number with an answering machine to record all messages from the suspect and only actively use the new unpublished phone line.)
3) Put a tap on the phone?
4) Told friends, coworkers, or family about the harassment?
5) Told building security at home, work, or school?
6) Given photos of the suspect to security?
7) Asked to be escorted to the parking lot and worksite?
8) Changed work schedule or route to work?
9) Stopped visiting places previously frequented?
10) Taken self-defense courses?
11) Bought pepper spray?
12) Purchased a gun?
13) Installed an alarm system?
14) Purchased a guard dog?
Suspect Interviews
1. The goal of the interview is to gather as much information as possible about the suspect’s thinking, behavior patterns, and activities regarding the victim and to encourage change in the stalker’s behavior. Officers should be aware that in some cases interviewing the suspect may serve to intensify his interest in the victim and provoke him into more extreme action. Precautions, such as safety planning with the victim, must always be taken whenever a suspect interview is conducted.
2. Research the suspect’s background before the interview, if possible, as it can be very helpful to catch the suspect off guard with known information.
However, be on guard. Stalking suspects can be very cunning and manipulative. They will often attempt to deny or rationalize their behavior or try to outsmart law enforcement.
a. Conduct database checks, i.e., Department of Motor Vehicles, local records, criminal records, etc.
b. Search state and national databases, Internet services, and police contact records maintained by jurisdictions where the suspect has lived.
c. Interview people that may provide relevant information about the suspect such as:
1) Family
2) Friends
3) Employer(s), both prior and current
4) School officials
5) Child welfare investigators
3. Have a strategy prior to actually contacting the suspect. It is recommended that
a. Interview any stalking suspect in pairs.
b. Be aware of officer safety.
c. Remember to obtain as many details as possible and document the interview extensively.
d. Provide the suspect a chance to view his/her actions as misunderstood by the victim and how others could have misunderstood his/her intentions.
e. Remember to question the suspect about other potential victims or crimes.
4. Objectives of the suspect’s interview:
a. Determine criminal activity.
b. Determine the suspect’s current state of mind.
c. Attempt to assess the threat posed by the suspect.
d. Learn if the suspect has other victims in mind.
e. Encourage the suspect to change his/her behavior.
f. Advise the suspect that the behavior is unwanted, unacceptable, and must stop immediately.
5. If the investigator’s involvement is post-arrest, best practices should guide the investigator in conducting the investigation as stated above. It is also imperative that all bail and/or restraining or protective orders are reinforced with the defendant. It must be clear that all violations of orders or laws will result in arrest and possible incarceration.
6. Videotape the interview, whenever possible. Body language, gestures, voice tone, eye contact, etc. are all important aspects in evaluating the suspect.
Stalking Behaviors
Because stalking is a “pattern of conduct,” stalking can consist of a wide variety of criminal behavior and noncriminal behavior. Any type of crime, from vandalism to homicide, could be part of a stalking case.
Stalking laws also criminalize noncriminal behavior, such as letter sending, phone calls, and other contacts if that behavior is part of a pattern that creates an implicit or explicit threat to the victim. Generally, stalking is an escalating series of actions and incidents. Common stalking behaviors include, but are not limited to:
1. Violations of any protective order by visits to the victim’s home or any other location frequented by the victim.
2. Telephone calls to the victim (harassing, threatening, obscene, or otherwise).
3. Mail, cards, letters, or gifts to the victim.
4. Trespassing.
5. Burglary of the victim’s home (often there is no forced entry because the stalker may have a key).
6. Following the victim on foot or in a vehicle.
7. Showing up at the victim’s place of employment or other frequented establishments.
8. Keeping the victim under surveillance or monitoring of the victim’s activities.
9. Making slanderous statements or false reports concerning the victim, calling law enforcement or CYFD.
10. Delivery of objects to the victim intended to cause fear to that victim (these objects, taken out of context, may seem innocuous to outsiders).
11. Threats made to the victim (direct, veiled, or conditional).
12. Vandalism or theft of the victim’s property, home, vehicle, workplace, or vandalism to the property, etc., of any friend or family member who helps her, especially by allowing her to stay at their home.
13. Vandalism affecting the security of the victim’s home, such as unscrewing outside lights or disabling the alarm system.
14. Disabling the victim’s vehicles.
15. Transferring the victim’s phone line to another line in order to monitor messages, disabling the phone, or planting listening devices in the victim’s home.
16. Filing “change of address” forms at the post office under the victim’s name in order to “intercept” the victim’s mail.
17. Harassing or threatening the victim by use of computers and the Internet.
Unique Aspects of Stalking Cases
Stalking cases are unique and sometimes difficult cases for law enforcement for several reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:
1. Stalking cases often appear insignificant to the patrol officer in the beginning. This is because they manifest as violations of protective orders or harassing phone calls which can be viewed as low priority. Quite often nothing physically has happened to the victim yet. Unless the patrol officer questions the victim thoroughly, a potential or present stalking case can be completely missed. Often, the victim will not be aware that they are being stalked. They are aware only that there is a problem in their life.
2. For the majority of stalking victims, the fear that something will happen is overwhelming, and they never feel safe. To further complicate stalking cases, many people believe stalking victims are merely paranoid and not in any real danger. Some even think stalking is a form of flattery. Others blame the victim, wondering what she/he has done to encourage the stalker. Because of these perceptions, the stalking victim may feel very isolated and because nothing may have happened to her yet, no one may help her/him. The victim is further isolated from support systems if she/he has moved or changed jobs as a protective measure. The victim may also feel guilty about putting family or friends in possible danger if the stalker has made threats against them. Acknowledging the legitimacy of the victim’s fear and recognizing that stalking behavior can indeed be the precursor of significant violence is a critical first step in any stalking investigation.
3. Stalkers may commit criminal acts in multiple jurisdictions. The victim may live in one city or town, work in another, attend school in a third location and may also flee to a relative’s or friend’s home because of the harassment. Consequently, there will be different locations–and sometimes different victims’ names on crime reports (especially when the friend’s or relative’s property is vandalized)–which all relate to acts committed by the same stalker, but not being investigated by the same police officer or even the same police department. Different agencies must communicate on these incidents or the complete pattern of the stalking case gets lost, or is never recognized, and the victim is not helped.
4. Stalking cases can last for several years with varying periods of inactivity or increased activity.
5. Arrest and prosecution of stalkers, and/or the victim’s obtaining a protective order, is not any guarantee that the stalker will cease and desist; in fact, these actions may aggravate the situation. This does not mean that these remedies should not be used, but only in conjunction with safety planning for and with the victim. It is also critical that appropriate bail, conditions of release, and ultimate penalties are leveled against the stalker.
Document the following about the suspect
Responding officers, detectives, and victim service providers should work together as investigators, gathering information about the victim and the stalker. Duties for officers, detectives, and service providers should be clearly defined.
a. The responding officer should document the following by thoroughly interviewing the victim about the suspect:
1) Any prior threats made to the victim (direct or indirect).
2) Develop a timeline of the stalking behaviors towards the victim.
3) Any actual pursuit or following of the victim.
4) Any history of violence against the victim or others.
5) Any history of prior sexual intimacy with the victim?
6) Any information regarding the suspect’s tendency towards emotional outburst or rage.
7) Prior mental illness history of the suspect.
8) Substance abuse problems of the suspect.
9) Suspect’s possession of, knowledge of, or fascination with weapons.
10) Any history of filed protective orders against the suspect or protective order violations by the suspect.
11) Any annoying phone calls made by the suspect to the victim or anyone connected to the victim.
12) Any unsolicited correspondence, threatening or non-threatening, from the suspect to the victim.
13) Threats of murder and/or suicide by the suspect.
14) Any acts of vandalism or arson committed by the suspect against the victim or anyone connected to the victim.
15) Is the victim in fear?
b. If children are present, interview the children about the stalking in a careful, gentle manner appropriate to the child’s age and emotional state. Be alert for excited utterances from children while interviewing adults and witnesses.
c. Every stalking investigation should include a thorough research of the suspect’s prior criminal history and/or prior contacts with law enforcement.
Threat Assessment
In stalking cases, law enforcement officers have a unique opportunity to act in a proactive way and prevent future harm to a victim. Assessing the potential threat posed by a stalking suspect is an important step towards that goal. The primary objective of a threat assessment investigation is to gather as much information as possible on both the victim and the suspect.
a. Suspect Information
Multiple sources of information should be consulted to learn about the suspect’s behavior, interests, and state of mind. These can include:
1) Personal interviews with the suspect.
2) Material created by or possessed by the suspect such as journals, letters, books, magazines, or other items collected.
3) Interviews with people who know or have known the suspect, such as friends, family, coworkers, supervisors, neighbors, landlord, previous victims, etc.
4) Any public records, such as police, court, probation or corrections records, mental health records, or social services records.
b. Victim Information
The patrol officer and/or investigator need specific information about the victim, such as:
1) Is the victim well known to the suspect? Does the suspect know about the victim’s work, home, personal lifestyle, patterns of living, daily comings and goings?
2) Is the victim vulnerable to attack? Does the victim have resources to arrange for physical security? What can change about the victim’s lifestyle that could make attack by the suspect more difficult or less likely?
3) Is the victim afraid of the suspect? Is that degree of fear shared by the victim’s friends, family, and colleagues?
4) How sophisticated or naive is the victim about the need for caution? How able is the victim to communicate a clear and consistent “I want no contact with you” message to the suspect?
c. Will the suspect attack?
Using the information obtained throughout the investigation, the police officer must then seek to determine whether the suspect appears to be moving toward or away from an attack. Factors which suggest a high risk to the victim include:
1) Present threats to kill the victim.
2) Past threats to kill this victim or other victims.
3) Use of weapons such as guns, knives, or other potentially lethal weapons.
4) Possession of lethal weapons.
5) Degree of obsession, possessiveness, and/or jealousy regarding the victim.
6) Violations of a restraining order with demonstration of little concern for the consequences of arrest and jail time.
7) Past incidents of violence against this victim and/or others.
8) Present or past threats of suicide.
9) Access to the victim and/or the victim’s family.
10) Hostage taking.
11) Depression.
12) Other mental illness evidence or indicators regarding the stalker.
13) Drug or alcohol abuse of the stalker.
14) History of prior stalking of this victim or other victims.
d. Questions to consider in assessing threats:
1) Basic Questions:
a) Does the victim believe the threat?
b) This is important information, even if the victim is minimizing the danger she/he faces. Consider also that words or acts that are not particularly threatening in one cultural frame of reference could well be terrorizing in another.
c) Was the threat made in the presence of other people? In writing? In a recorded telephone conversation? Willingness to “leave evidence” or “not caring who knows” may indicate a more serious intention to follow
d) Is the threat detailed and specific? Evaluate threats in stalking the same as potential suicides–the more thought that has gone into the plan (evidenced by the amount and specificity of the detail), the more likely it is
to be acted on: “I’m going to kill you” is cause for concern; “Tonight, I’m going to rape and strangle you and hide your body where no one will ever find it” is cause for greater alarm.
e) Is the threatened act consistent with his past behavior?
f) Does the stalker have the means to carry it out? Again, consider the parallel to assessing potential suicides–there’s having the thought, then there’s having a plan, then there’s being able to follow through. Where the “means” are at hand, there is more risk.
g) Have there been “rehearsals” of the act that is being threatened? These can be verbal run-throughs (“let me tell you what I’m going to do”) or partial re-enactments (showing someone the intended weapon or the
intended site for the murder or burial).
h) Does the threat extend to others (such as, children, family members, police, or new lover)? Fear of harm to others may restrict a victim’s willingness to resist and/or to follow through with police and the courts.
i) Does the threat involve murder, suicide, or both? If the stalker is a current or former intimate partner, remember that a substantial percentage of domestic homicides are multiple-victim killings, murder-suicides, or murder-suicide attempts.
2) Questions regarding any history of violence/use of force by the stalker:
a) Was the suspect abusive to former partners or family members?
b) Has the physical violence increased in frequency or intensity over the past year?
c) Did the physical violence involve choking or attempted strangulation or a head injury?
d) Does the suspect have a history of violence toward people who aren’t intimates or family members?
e) Does the suspect have a history of sexual assault behavior?
f) Has the suspect ever abused pets or other animals?
g) Has the suspect ever destroyed property, especially a former partner’s or current target’s personal property? (Intentional and terrorist destruction of property is often an “it could just as well be you, and next time might be” message.)
h) Does the suspect have a special interest in/fascination with movies, television shows, video games, or books that focus on themes of violence, power, and revenge?
3) Questions regarding weapons (consider not only firearms, but also other dangerous weapons such as compound bows, swords, large hunting knives, or martial arts weapons):
a) Does the stalker have access to weapons? Does the stalker keep weapons in more than one place? Does the stalker have access to weapons owned by others? Is the stalker trained in their use?
b) Does the stalker have illegal or exotic weapons?
c) Is having and being willing to use weapons part of the stalker’s selfimage? (This is particularly crucial in relationships that involve people in law enforcement, corrections, the military, and the criminal justice system.)
d) Has the suspect’s past violence involved the display, use or threatened use of firearms or other weapons?
e) Does the victim possess weapons? What kind? Is the victim trained in their use?
4) Questions regarding escalation of stalking behaviors:
a) Does the offender enlist others in monitoring the victim’s behavior? (Not only the offender’s friends, family, coworkers and cell mates, but also the victim’s friends, family, and coworkers.)
b) Has the offender contacted or threatened the victim’s friends, relatives, or coworkers?
c) Has the offender followed, spied on, staked out, or otherwise stalked the victim?
d) Has the offender made unwanted attempts to communicate by mail or telephone, or through third parties? (These communications don’t have to be threats. They can be “I was so wrong, I don’t know what came over me; can you ever forgive me; let’s work it out together” messages, flowers, gifts, etc.)
5) Other threat assessment considerations:
a) Number of times a restraining order has been issued against the stalker and number of times the stalker has violated restraining orders (checking all available jurisdictions).
b) Search warrants and seizure of tangible items of evidence.
c) Seizure of any firearms accessible to the stalker.
d) Special considerations when the stalker is a law enforcement officer.
e) Special considerations when the stalker is in the military.
Advising the Stalking Victim
1. A response to a victim of stalking should include whatever steps are reasonably necessary to protect the victim, including:
a) Advising the victim about criminal and civil orders of protection and other legal tools for prohibiting contact between the stalker and the victim.
b) Providing the victim with written referral contact information for victim service programs within the community that provide assistance with obtaining such orders.
c) Providing written referral information regarding the availability of shelter, medical care, counseling, and other services within the community.
d) Providing the victim in writing with the responding officer’s name, badge number, the incident report number, and a telephone number that the victim can call for information about the case.
e) Advising the victim about procedure for initiating criminal proceedings and the collection and preservation of evidence for police investigators and prosecutors.
f) Providing the victim with a brochure or pamphlet that explains their rights as crime victims, available services and compensation and how to access such services, etc.
g) Offering to arrange for the department’s crime prevention unit to come to the victim’s residence and conduct a walkthrough security check of the residence and recommend measures to improve security.
h) Providing written information about safety planning and victim advocates who can assist with safety strategies.
i) Helping the victim leave her/his residence, for safety reasons, by accessing resources in the community such as family, friends, and community shelters and/or actually transporting the victim to a secure location.
j) If there are children in the household, establish what steps need to be taken to ensure they remain safe, including crisis planning, relocation, and communication with school authorities. If the stalker is a parent of
children living in the household, arrange through the court for custody or visitation through a third party.
2. Be honest with the victim about any information that suggests that the suspect is a real threat to her/him.
3. Advise the victim to take extra safety precautions.
4. Although officers should be cautious in making generalizations, the following advice can usually be given in all cases:
a. Stop all contact with the stalker. It is important that the victim be very direct and firm. Repeatedly telling the stalker that she/he doesn’t want to talk to him/her is still talking to the stalker and may be perceived by the stalker as carrying a mixed message. If after leaving forty messages on her/his answering machine, the victim returns the call to demand that he/she stop, the lesson learned is that the cost of getting a call from her/him is to call and leave forty messages. It’s essential to cut off all contact.
b. Don’t let third parties other than law enforcement and/or persons serving a restraining/protective order (if applicable) intervene with the stalker.
c. Take the following actions if the stalker poses a genuine threat:
1) Obtain a restraining order or a criminal/civil protective order, but appreciate that it is not a guarantee of safety and, sometimes, may provoke rather than deter the stalker.
2) Take additional safety precautions when a restraining/protective order is served. For example, change
the phone number or get an additional unlisted number and keep the original number connected to an answering machine that receives messages from the stalker.
3) Alter work hours and routes to work and other places.
4) Always maintain a full gas tank.
5) Inform employers, coworkers, and workplace security about the stalking problem and provide them with a photo/description of the stalker. If the stalker shows up at work, have someone call the police immediately. Avoid contact with the stalker, even if he/she is causing a scene.
6) If your residence or neighborhood has security staff, provide a photo/description of the stalker, the stalker’s vehicle, and a copy of any restraining order.
7) Keep a diary with all contact attempts, dates, times, and details of any witnesses to incidents. If there is a restraining order, call police immediately if the stalker attempts contact.
8) Save all evidence of stalking-related incidents, even if it seems insignificant.
9) If there are hang-up calls to home or work, arrange with the telephone company for a phone trap to be installed.
10) If there are harassing emails, contact the Internet service provider to find out options for preserving existing messages from the stalker and blocking new ones.
11) Avoid places frequented by the stalker.
12) Instruct children in the household to keep all address and telephone information confidential.
13) If possible, move to a new address with a roommate and put all the bills (utilities etc.) in the roommate’s name.
4. Encourage the victim to work with law enforcement, victim advocates, and/or prosecutors to develop specific, personalized, and detailed safety plans and provide written information about who can assist with safety planning. Explain that:
a. Safety plans must be continually assessed and adjusted in light of developments in the investigation and
prosecution of the case.
b. It’s essential to plan for safety in the home and at locations away.
c. All strategies and technologies to promote safety.
5. Tell the victim about early warning strategies involving neighbors, known as “cocoon watches” that can provide them with additional protection. (These strategies were first developed by law enforcement in Great Britain.) Subject to the victim’s informed consent, based on current risks posed by the stalker, law enforcement can work with Neighborhood Watch (and/or other neighbors) to turn neighbors into “eyes and ears” that watch out for the stalker and contact the victim and 911 if he/she is sighted. Even a five minute warning may help save a stalking victim’s life. Consent from the victim is critical because some victims do not want neighbors to know about their problems.


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