Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Police Officers' Attitudes and Challenges with Charging Stalking

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Police Officers' Attitudes and Challenges with Charging Stalking

Article excerpt

This study examined 2 groups of police officers on perceived barriers and attitudes related to charging stalking. Police officers who categorized into groups based on if they had (n = 73) or had not (n = 90) previously charged stalking. Results indicated that officers who had never charged stalking viewed stalking as less dangerous, believed that officers do not file reports when called for stalking, and perceived all barriers related to charging stalking as more challenging than officers who had previously charged stalking. Officers who charged stalking had greater comprehension of the stalking statute and identified specific problems within the statute. The results have implications related to improving specialized police training in an effort to better protect victims of stalking and increase stalking charges.

Keywords: law enforcement; protection of victims; attitudes; stalking law

Stalking can be defined as an unwanted and repeated course of conduct directed toward a specific individual that induces fear or concern for safety (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004; Westrup & Fremouw, 1998). Over the past two decades, legal professionals and scholars have recognized stalking as a growing social and criminal problem in the United States (Black et al., 2011; Tjaden, Thoennes, & Allison, 2000). For example, the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey estimated that approximately 16% of women and 5% of men in the United States have been stalked, using the definition earlier, at some point in their lives (Black et al., 2011).

Despite the prevalence of stalking and the risk of harm stalking poses to victims, arrest rates, prosecutions, and convictions for stalking in the United States are low (Brewster, 2001; Jordan, Logan, Walker, & Nigoff, 2003; Logan, Walker, Faragher, & Hoyt, 2009; Miller, 2001). The successful charging of stalking may depend on police officer knowledge and attitudes toward stalking because police officers are first responders to calls of stalking (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2002). Law enforcement may not understand the legal definition of stalking and/or may lack the understanding of the harm stalkers inflict on their targets (Klein, Salomon, Huntington, Dubois, & Lang, 2009; Logan, Walker, Stewart, & Allen, 2006). Furthermore, without specific training in stalking, law enforcement may have a difficult time differentiating stalking from ongoing occasional partner violence-particularly after a court intervention, such as a protective order, is in place (Logan & Walker, 2010).

There is limited research investigating police officers' responses to stalking. Some researchers have suggested that police officers do not understand stalking laws and often do not advise victims to seek protective orders (Geistman, 2011). Only one study has investigated specific tactics police officers use in response to stalking. Storey and Hart (2011) found that Canadian police officers used a wide variety of specific tactics and strategies, such as evaluating perpetrator risk factors, victim-perpetrator relationship variables, and victim vulnerability factors. However, the police officers used in Storey and Hart's study were recruited from a specialized antistalking unit of the law enforcement. Nevertheless, these results support the notion that specialized training and experience in stalking should increase police officers' ability to effectively build a stalking case while protecting the victim.

Regarding police officers' attitudes toward stalking, some researchers have examined police perceptions of stalking using vignettes. Weller, Hope, and Sheridan (2013) presented police and nonpolice participants in the United Kingdom with stalking vignettes differing on the victim-offender relationship and found that both police and nonpolice participants perceived the scenario to be more similar to stalking when the victim and offender were strangers versus acquaintances or ex-intimates. …

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