The Dark Figure of Stalking: Examining Law Enforcement Response.

Author(s): 
Brady, P.Q., & Nobles, M.R. (2017).
Source: 
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3149 – 3173.
Type of Profession:
Keywords:
Summary: 
Although scholars consider stalking to be a significant issue, its prevalence is not echoed in official data representing stalking arrests and convictions. This study used official data to examine police response to stalking. Findings indicated that, compared with other interpersonal crimes, incidents of stalking are dramatically under recorded.
Abstract: 

Despite the growing body of scholarship on stalking, the criminal justice system’s response has been substantially understudied. Although scholars consider stalking to be a significant issue, its prevalence is not echoed in official data representing stalking arrests and convictions. The disparity between prevalence estimates and official data reinforces a “dark figure” of stalking that warrants further examination. Overall, the extant literature demonstrates that police officers typically have a limited understanding of the nature and extent of stalking (Farrell et al., 2000; Melton, 2012; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). In a survey of 246 officers from a large northwestern police department, Farrell et al. (2000) found that almost half (48%) of participating officers were unaware of whether their department had a policy on handling stalking cases. Moreover, only 18% of officers could define stalking as it pertained to the state statute, and a shocking 17% were unaware that stalking was actually a legitimate criminal offense. Overall, previous studies indicate that officers rarely charge offenders with stalking (Jordan, Logan, Walker, & Nigoff, 2003; Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). In a review of 1,785 domestic violence police reports, Tjaden and Thoennes (2000) found that one in six reports had evidence of stalking, while only one out of the 1,785 reports resulted in a stalking charge, illustrating that the majority of cases that might qualify for stalking prosecution are overlooked. Several studies suggest that stalking is regularly confounded with other crimes such as harassment, violation of protective orders, or trespassing (Jordan et al., 2003; Logan, 2010). In a statewide study of stalking case outcomes for 390 offenders in Kentucky, Jordan et al. (2003) found that the most frequent disposition for felony and misdemeanor stalking charges was dismissal (55.2% of felony and 62% of misdemeanor cases), while the second most common outcome involved the charge being amended to a lesser offense. Of the stalking cases that were not amended to lesser charges, only 13.9% of felony and 24% of misdemeanor cases resulted in convictions. National estimates indicate that rates of arrest for stalking range from 7.7% to 23.5% (Baum et al., 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).

To develop a better understanding of underreporting, this exploratory study used official data from the Houston Police Department to examine police response to stalking. Findings indicated that, compared with other interpersonal crimes, incidents of stalking are dramatically underrecorded. Over an 8-year period, there were a total of 3,756 stalking calls for service, 66 stalking-related incident reports, and only 12 arrests for stalking. However, not one of the stalking calls for service generated a stalking-related incident report nor an arrest for stalking. Of the stalking calls for service that did generate an incident report, the large majority of the reports were classified as either harassment or a violation of a protective order.

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