Harassment, Stalking, Threat
September 28, 2022
Police Priority Dispatch System™ (PPDS®) Protocol 119: Harassment/Stalking/Threat has evolved with the changing times. The advent of social media, tracking technology, and texting moves unwanted and fear-provoking actions against an individual or group along a continuum from an actual place to a place with or without precise location.
Harassment is defined in PPDS as:
• Insulting, taunting, or challenging another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response, whether in person or by electronic means.
• Making a phone call/text without the purpose of legitimate communication or making repeated calls/texts anonymously, at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language.
Harassment is governed by state laws. Social media harassment is characterized by online bullying and refers to the use of the internet to stalk, intimidate, harm, or disgrace someone.1
Stalking is defined in PPDS as the crime of willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing another and making threats intended to make the person fear for their safety.
Stalking in person or virtually (cyberstalking) is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and the Federal government, although legal definitions differ. To get a stalking injunction in Utah, for example, a person must show that the stalker has followed, threatened, or confronted them at least two times in a way that “would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress or to be afraid for the person’s own safety or the safety of someone else.”2
A threat is defined in PPDS as a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action, whether in person or by electronic means (e.g., blackmail, extortion, or intimidation).
The unwelcome actions of harassment and stalking are considered the dark side of social media. These actions can range from the extreme of recurrent intrusive behavior that is not welcomed by the victims and causes a sense of fear because it embodies implicit or explicit threats, to an impulsive engagement in knowingly and surreptitiously monitoring others’ social media profiles.3
What action can victims take?
The Justice Department recommends, “If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Contact your local police department to report stalking and stalking-related incidents and/or threats.”4 To assist these callers, PPDS Protocol 119 provides Determinant Codes, Key Question sequences, and Post-Dispatch Instructions to support recurring and “just occurred” incidents and to address phone threats/harassment and social media threats/harassment.
Historically, Protocol 119 was tailored with generic descriptors (THREAT, HARASSMENT) and indicators (suspect never on scene or suspect unknown), according to Dave Warner, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™), Police Protocol, Academics, and Standards Associate.
“While this worked, it didn’t provide flexibility in the protocol to allow specific logic-driven questions or instructions based on how the incident took place,” Warner said. Phone (voice discussions vs. texting) and social media (general posts or those specific to an individual) are “now much better addressed in the protocol,” Warner said. These changes were created in the v6.4 protocol and were needed to provide coding of low-level (non-face-to-face) incidents of threats or harassment for the OMEGA-eligible Determinant Codes of PPDS.
What’s new about PPDS Protocol 119
An Axiom added to PPDS v6.4 addresses the fluid nature of social media: Posts of social media threats may be short-lived and deleted by the author. Obtaining specific information such as the author’s screen name, actual name, phone number, or other details can be important for
In PPDS v7.0, there are two primary changes. The “just occurred” CHARLIE-level Determinant Codes are no longer optional and must be given assignments in the Admin Utility. “Suspect in area” BRAVO-level Determinant Codes have been added and can be turned on and off in the Admin Utility. The primary driver for the different Determinant levels is the time of the occurrence and the suspect’s location:
• If the caller reports “In progress” on the Key Question “When did this happen/How many minutes ago did this happen?”, the incident cannot be downgraded to a CHARLIE or BRAVO level.
• If the caller reports “Just happened” on the Key Question “When did this happen/How many minutes ago did this happen?”, either a DELTA-level or a CHARLIE-level code may qualify, depending on the answers to the Key Question “Where’s the suspect/person now?”.
• If the caller reports “PAST” or“Unknown” on the Key Question“When did this happen/How many minutes ago did this happen?”
- And BRAVO codes are turned off: a CHARLIE-level code may qualify if the suspect/person is in the area or if the caller can see/hear something. on: a BRAVO-level code may qualify if the suspect/person is in the area or if the caller can see/hear something.
In addition, several PDIs were modified to be Jurisdictionally Approved Instructions (JAIs). Much like the Jurisdictionally Approved Questions (JAQs), these JAIs can be enabled or disabled by going to the “Restricted Settings” section in Police ProQA® Paramount Admin, selecting the protocol number, and then clicking on the box next to each instruction. All JAIs are enabled by default. When a JAI is enabled, it will appear in purple font. The PDIs affected in Protocol 119 are:
d. Make a list of all dates, times, and details of previous incidents.
e. (Phone) Do not delete your phone’s call log history, caller ID, or recorded messages.
f. (Electronic) Do not delete any text messages/emails.
g. (Written matter) Save the document.
h. (Court order) Have all paperwork available for the responding officers.
i. (Social media) Take a screenshot or photo of the post, if possible. Do not engage the sender or do anything to draw more attention to it.
OMEGA provides an alternative response for nonemergency situations. An OMEGA code is a specific Determinant Code of a non-emergent nature and is accompanied by an OMEGA suffix to delineate the type of OMEGA designation. The agency can select the individual Chief Complaint Protocols for which they want to have the OMEGA-eligible Determinant Codes (and all the suffixes, PDIs, definitions associated with OMEGA) available.
The OMEGA Key Question sequences and suffixes give callers an alternative to police coming to their doors for questioning. The EPD can refer the caller to a different resource or to make a report over the phone or online.
The OMEGA logic in ProQA guides the EPD to direct callers to online police reporting websites where they can file official reports, other municipal service providers such as animal control departments, or telephone reporting units within the law enforcement agencies.
When OMEGA codes are enabled on a given Chief Complaint, ProQA provides the EPD with a Blue Operator Question instructing the EPD to “Select the appropriate OMEGA pathway.” The EPD chooses the OMEGA pathway appropriate to that agency’s resources as outlined in a Special Definition pop-up box entitled OMEGA Coding Conditions. ProQA offers these answer choice options:
- Not OMEGA dispatch unit(s)
- Online reporting
- Telephone reporting
- Caller refused OMEGA process dispatch unit(s)
- ProQA doesn't necessarily SEND right away. This is particularly the case if the EPD has selected the answer choices “Not OMEGA – dispatch unit(s)” and “Caller refused OMEGA process – dispatch unit(s).” If these are selected, ProQA will continue Key Questioning and SEND as normal. These two answer choices are also the only ones that potentially would not have an OMEGA suffix. The suffixes are:
• O = Online reporting
• T = Telephone reporting
• R= Referral
The Referral suffix allows agencies to customize the language in the PDI so that it is specific to the resource to which the call will be referred.
ProQA provides four unique Key Questions that can be enabled globally in administration to help determine if a call qualifies for online reporting:
- Do you have an active/working email address?
- Are you 18 years of age or older?
- Do you have any suspect information (vehicles or persons)?
- Is there any obvious evidence at that location (video surveillance, blood, tools)?
There are two sections: General or Common Qualifiers for Reporting Incidents Online and Incidents that Allow Online Reporting.
General or Common Qualifiers for Reporting Incidents Online are the standards associated with most police agencies and outline conditions where online reporting is appropriate. General or Common Qualifiers for Reporting Incidents Online:
• The incident is not an emergency
• The incident occurred in the boundaries/jurisdiction of …
• Incident did not occur on a
• No evidence at the scene
• 18 years of age or older
• Valid/working email address
• No suspect information
• No injuries
• No weapons used
Incidents Allowing Online Reporting designates incidents in which many agencies allow online reporting rather than an in-person report by an officer. These are the Incidents Allowing Online Reporting for Protocol 119:
• Harassing Phone Calls (Text, Emails)
• Suspicious Circumstances
• Suspicious Activity (National Security Awareness)
The PPDS, introduced at NAVIGATOR 2006, features 31 Chief Complaints tailored to meet the demands of the appropriate response while, at the same time, avoiding undue risk at the scene to both responders and the public. Each version builds on the former version and in anticipation of the next version to improve—among other features—granularity, delineation (Sub-Chief Complaints, for example), suffix refinement, and PDIs.
Stay on the lookout. PPDS v7.0 is slated for release in October 2022.
1. Dhir A, Talwar S, Kaur P, Budhiraja S, Islam N. “The dark side of social media: Stalking, online self-disclosure and problematic sleep.” International Journal of Consumer Studies. 2021; Jan 9. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/ijcs.12659 (accessed June 20, 2022)
2. Miller J. “Flipping off neighbor, putting up signs bashing her business: Is this free speech – or stalking?” Salt Lake Tribune. 2022; June 19. pg. A11 (accessed June 19, 2022)
3. See note 1.
4. “Stalking.” The United States Department of Justice. justice.gov/ovw/stalking (accessed June 20, 2022).