Assessing the threat level of a stalker to help keep yourself safe
Read last week's column: Valentine's Day brings out the stalkers
I hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day and were pleasantly surprised. If however you were unlucky and got a "creepy" Valentine from someone you do not want a relationship with, it is time to deal with it. Now!
When dealing with stalkers it is best to nip it in the bud. End the "relationship" before emotional ties become strong. Tell the person you do not now or in the future want a relationship with him or her. Tell them not to call, write, phone, Facebook, visit, Tweet, e-mail, text or have any contact of any kind.
Tatiana Parfenova | Dreamstime.com
For a victim, it is important to assess the threat a stalker presents and act accordingly. The stalker's actions and past history will guide the victim's response to the threat.
In accessing threat levels the police always look at a stalking suspect's background. A person's past history is a predictor of their future behavior. Past criminal histories of violence, mental health issues, substance abuse issues and fascination with weapons will raise the threat level of a stalker.
Low threats to victims include such activities as information gathering about the victim and repeated nonthreatening attempts to contact the victim. These can take any form of electronic communications, requests for dates or meetings, flowers or gifts left on a victim's car or at their workplace or just "coincidentally" showing up where the victim goes.
If behaviors become uncomfortable for the victim, the victim should tell the person to stop. Victims in this low threat threshold must avoid feeling sorry for the stalker, and under no circumstances should they go on a date or meet with the stalker just "to be nice." Stalkers misinterpret these actions and believe a beautiful relationship is developing.
If the stalker does not stop the behaviors and continues to contact the victim after being warned once, the victim should contact the police. Working as a team with the police, the victim must begin to specifically document the actions of the stalker in order to build a criminal case.
The police will ask the victim if the victim wants them to contact the stalker. Many times all it takes is a phone call or a face-to-face encounter with the police for the stalking behaviors to stop.
If the stalker's behaviors do not cease after police contact, the police will encourage the victim to obtain a Personal Protection Order (PPO). To obtain a PPO in Washtenaw County refer to the Sheriff's Office website at: www.ewashtenaw.org/government/sheriff/services/personal-protection-orders/personal-protection-orders or call the PPO Liaison at 734-222-3001.
Personal Protection Orders are a tool for law enforcement. Once served on an individual, the police can arrest the stalker for violations of the order. Stalking a person in violation of a PPO elevates the crime to "aggravated stalking," which is a felony.
The victim must understand, however, that a PPO is only a piece of paper and cannot physically protect a victim. The victim must realize that they must defend themselves, escape or evade a stalker until they can get to a safe place or the police arrive.
When the stalking behaviors have progressed from the irritating to the frightening, the stalker has moved to a medium threat level. The stalker feels hurt or humiliated by the victim and is enraged. The stalker has moved from a relation-building mode (low) to retaliatory (medium) mode.
Stalking behaviors meeting this threshold include: threatening or intimidating calls or communications; loitering around a victim's home, car or workplace; spreading false information on social networks or to family, friends, employers or even the police.
Stalkers often complain to the police that they are actually the victims of stalking by the victim. The stalker may engage in property destruction. Breaking into the victim's car, slashing tires or breaking into a victim's home while the victim is at work are common behaviors.
Victims must take action to ensure their safety. Prevention and education are essential. The victim must be hyper vigilant. They should lock doors, always carry a charged cell phone, travel with friends when possible, vary their routines, take self-defense classes and consider arming themselves.
Victims must educate family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and even utility providers that they are being stalked. All should know not to divulge any information to anyone about the victim. Utility providers should set up passwords on victims' accounts, because stalkers have been known to make queries "for" the victim to obtain information.
If possible, victims should provide pictures and vehicle descriptions of their stalker, for people helping look out. Those people helping should immediately call the police and victim if the stalker is spotted.
Victims should park their car in a locked garage or somewhere that others can watch it. Motion activated trail cameras or video surveillance can be employed to spot stalkers and record their activities near the victim's home or car.
Victims must also develop plans to move to safe havens if necessary. Family, friends, hotels or women's shelters can be effective safe places. The medium threat has become a high threat at this point.
High threat stalkers are rare and usually involve former intimate or domestic partners. These stalkers are beyond reason and are extremely dangerous. Their behaviors may include leaving dead animals around the victim's home or car, assaulting and attempting to kill the victim.
When there is a high threat, a victim must escape. They must go to their safe place. They must always keep a "go bag" containing cash, prescription medications, clothing, toiletries, cell phone and documentation of the stalking, which includes a copy of the served PPO.
Victims in very extreme cases may be forced to leave their lives and residences and start over with new names. In these rare cases only incarceration or death of the stalker will end the nightmare.
Stalking is a very real problem and should be taken seriously by potential victims. For more information on stalking, contact your local police, Safe House or the National Center for Victims of Crime at: www.ncvc.org/src/main.aspx?dbID=DB_Safety_Plan_GuideLines333.
Lock it up, don't leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com. He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.
Wed, Feb 22, 2012 : 3:49 a.m.
Rich e-mail me so I can forward a request for a hostage negotiator article request from NTOA -vonk
Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.
Thank You Ms. Barbara May and your staff for the outstanding services you provide the citizens of Washtenaw County. Please accept my apologies as I meant to put the contact information for Safe House Center in my column, but forgot while I was editing. My apologies to you and the readers. Rich
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 6:07 p.m.
Rich Kinsey gets a 5-star review on this one! Thank you, Rich. Male or female, we have to take this kind of situation seriously. It's about ourselves and our sisters, brothers, sons and daughters and friends: everyone faces the possibility of being stalked by someone "not in their right mind." I'd like to add: this is an example where the police are definitely showing us their value. Too often, citizen perception is limited to times after one gets a traffic ticket. It's easy to forget that police "show up" for us when we really need them. I want to also thank AnnArbor.com for (apparently) responding to my request for - official sources - for self defense information and advocacy. My own efforts at that are often met with skepticism and I know other self defense advocates face the same resistance. That's just natural - no one should just take the word of some stranger on the Internet.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.
"The victim must understand, however, that a PPO is only a piece of paper and cannot physically protect a victim. The victim must realize that they must defend themselves, escape or evade a stalker until they can get to a safe place or the police arrive." There are too many sad cases to enumerate here where PPO's didn't work, and serious injuries and or death occurred. This problem is extremely serious and should be considered as a " no tolerance " crime by the courts. Forget guns, pepper spray, etc. Blanket Party's Work Best!
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.
A few years ago, I was advised AGAINST getting a PPO as it could have possibly enraged the "subject" and put me in a more dangerous situation.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.
Thanks for the article, Rich. Excellent!
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.
Rather than a gun or other weapon, I think pepper spray is a good alternative. Deters an assault and allows you to escape without use of lethal force, and won't be lethal to you, even if an assailant was to get it away from you.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.
While it's true that anyone who doesn't want a gun shouldn't have one, it's also true that expert advice on what defensive weapons should be used - should be followed. It's more than a matter of personal opinion. By advocating for your opinion, you may put at risk the lives of others. In this case, a former police detective is giving the advice taken from collective law enforcement knowledge. Kinsey says only that victims of stalkers should consider arming themselves. And that's all the advice that's needed.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.
having a stalker is truely terrifying, I could type more about my experience but doing so would make me feel ill and I don't want to go to that place today.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.
I would add to get your cpl, get your gun and learn how to use it!
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.
Rich Kinsey answered the phone when I called the police station on a Saturday afternoon five years ago. He was so nice, saved my sanity and encouraged me to file a police report. Another detective handled the case and he was amazing. The guy was actually stalking several women and he was prosecuted. The prosecuting attorney at the time, however...was WEAK...and told me that likely nothing would happen to the guy...so why go forward. Good thing I'm not that weak...he was sentenced and the judge was amazing. The AAPD was marvelous and I am very grateful to them and to colleagues of mine who knew there was something wrong with a few calls they answered at the office.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.
Gee, this happend to one. I send an instructor at HFCC a birthday and christmas card. I got a call from the Dean of Students Services and said I was not allowed to do that and got kicked out of HFCC. Unreally. Can't even be nice to a person without punishment.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 4:27 p.m.
Think you were dealt with harshly? <a href="http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120215/SCHOOLS/202150337/1409/metro/OU-student-describes-teacher-essay-Tall-blond-stacked-" rel='nofollow'>http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120215/SCHOOLS/202150337/1409/metro/OU-student-describes-teacher-essay-Tall-blond-stacked-</a>
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.
Rich Kinsey's articles are the best part of AnnArbor.com. They are thoughtful, funny, and most important, give real insight into both the criminal mind and how to keep safe. Rich, you ought to syndicate and publish in book form! Thanks so much. I will be sending the stalking articles to many people I know--including both of my daughters. Eric Lipson
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.
Dealing with mentally "unstable" men or women in this matter must be an awfully tough time for the victims and the police. Sounds like good advice even though a persons life is completely upended in the process of avoiding a stalker.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.
To contact SafeHouse Center, you can call our HelpLine at (734) 995-5444 or visit our website at <a href="http://www.safehousecenter.org" rel='nofollow'>www.safehousecenter.org</a>. Barbara Niess-May, Executive Director (email@example.com)
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.
If SafeHouse is allowed to advertise their services in response to this article on stalking, I'd like to know why my perfectly respectful, factual observations about their personally-witnessed shortcomings in dealing with male victims keep getting deleted. Men are often victims of stalkers. If SafeHouse wants to represent itself in this forum as a viable alternative for men, men have a right to know what they could easily encounter if they attempt to obtain services.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.
SafeHouse Center does provide supportive services and shelter for women, children and men who are in situations of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.
YpsiVeteran--SafeHouse does provide confidential and free services to male survivors. <a href="http://www.safehousecenter.org/find-help-support/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-survivor-services/" rel='nofollow'>http://www.safehousecenter.org/find-help-support/sexual-assault-domestic-violence-survivor-services/</a>