There’s not a lot of documented cases of stalking incidents in Sampson County, but local law enforcement officials would like residents to be aware in the real world and the cyber world.
Lt. Marcus Smith of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office said a lot of things may come into play such as the use of the Internet or any other electrical devices, to harass an individual, group or organization. He also said some of the other incidents may include false accusations, defamation, slander, libel, identity theft or soliciting a person for sex.
“There’s a lot that encompasses cyberstalking,” Smith said.
In general, stalking includes constantly following or harassing an individual. Smith said it’s no different when it comes to the cyber version.
“It’s really no different,” Smith said. “It just encompasses a computer or some kind of electronic device. Cyberstalking is no different than regular stalking.”
As defined by a portion of a state statute, “stalking involves two or more acts including, but not limited to acts where the stalker directly, indirectly or through a third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, is in the presence of, or follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person’s property.”
It isn’t stalking “if you’re a mutual friend with someone and you’re just browsing,” Smith said about searching through social media. “But stalking comes into play when you’re harassing this person in some sort of way or you’re trying to do something to interfere with this person’s daily activities …”
Last year, the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office investigated two incidents of cyberstalking, which followed with arrests. For 2015, the amount is about the same.
“As with anything there’s a lot that goes on that’s never reported,” Smith said. “Our information is only as good as what’s reported to us.”
Smith said people need to take the necessary steps to report actions if they are being stalked or harassed.
“It’s not something that we deal with on a daily basis, but it is out there,” he said.
For the first offense, stalking is a Class A1 misdemeanor, and a violator can be sentenced to a community punishment or shall be placed on supervised probation in addition to any other punishment, imposed by a court. If committed again, a defendant may be charged with a felony.
“It becomes a little more serious,” Smith said about the charges and punishment.
For victims of stalking incidents, he made a suggestion for people to keep records of incidents such as phone records, text messages, witnesses or private messages on social media.
“The more detailed information a victim can provide, the easier or investigation is going to be and the easier is to help that individual and get a conviction in court,” Smith said.
In addition, he advised people to be cautious when it comes to displaying private information on social media accounts and to use security features whenever possible.
Smith said cyberbullying is also connected by stalking or harassment. www.Safekids.com provides a variety of advice and tips for parents, teenagers and children.
The Clinton Police Department receives an average of two cases per year when it comes to stalking or cyberstalking.
“The electronic media is becoming a tool for harassment,” said Jay Tilley, chief of the Clinton Police Department.
Tilley said the stalker usually knows the victim. This often occurs in three out of four cases. He also reported that 30 percent involved personal relationships. The average age of victims and individuals include 18- to 24-year-olds.
“It’s not a stranger, it’s usually somebody you know,” he said.
To prevent stalking online, he advised people to use different email accounts when signing up for social media sites.
“If you’ve had a relationship with a person, you may want to consider changing your password and things like that,” Tilley said. “If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, that limits he or she the opportunities to get into your social media stuff.”
He said victims should not be ashamed about being harassed. He mentioned, how it’s a problem that’s not going to go away without help.
“You need to tell people about it, you need to report it to police,” Tilley said. “You need to tell your family members that you’re being stalked.
“A lot of people think it’s going to go away,” he said. “In some cases it will, but in a lot of cases it won’t. People have to be careful when you’re dealing with a stalker because you just don’t know what their mindset is. That’s why I think it’s important for someone being stalked to contact law enforcement.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.