Moore says many police departments' domestic violence training is woefully out of date. "They're still using material from the 1990s," she explains. "It references cases like Nicole Brown's. Technology has gone far beyond that — it changes by the hour, not by the year."
Wojnarek says law enforcement is always likely to be out of date. "Technology is moving so far and so fast. But that doesn't mean agencies can never be equipped to deal with it." His unit receives ongoing training on domestic violence, sexual assault, and like issues from a variety of sources.
One of them is the Stalking Resource Center. Garcia says, "We are funded to provide training and technical assistance to any agency that receives USDOJ Office on Violence Against Women grant funding. We are able to come to them at very low, or no cost." In fact, says Wojnarek, the Stalking Resource Center has been his unit's greatest help, to the extent that MCSO detectives are now qualified to train on the Center's behalf.
He adds that training and education are important to agencies and victims alike. "Even if you can't afford a unit, officers need to be educated to look for certain things they may not otherwise have looked for," he explains. The first case Wojnarek worked after his training was a stalking case involving Spector spyware — which he says he would've thought was just a video game if he hadn't had the training.
Investigators can also educate themselves via the Internet: Becoming active on detectives' forums and listservs, for instance, or even learning from the same places the stalkers do. Just as pedophiles learn from and empower each other online, so do stalkers. Moore says it's good to learn to think like they do. "Your mind has to be able to warp and tweak information to figure out what perps are doing, and can do, with the technology," she says.
Education often goes hand in hand with information sharing. As investigators from one department involve other agencies, they find they must teach investigators and officers about what they're doing. Wojnarek says this can be hit or miss. "Technology intimidates many people in law enforcement," he explains. "Even something we think of as simple, like tracking cookies, scares a lot of cops. It's like a language barrier: They can understand the words, but not the context."
This is also a problem within the criminal justice system. Prosecutors and judges have a hard time understanding the issues, much less explaining them to juries. The inconsistencies within state laws make it worse. "The language is outdated when it comes to high-tech stalking," Moore explains. "Even when high-tech crimes units are able to do good work, cases are often [pleaded] out because prosecutors don't understand the nature of the offenses they are dealing with."
High-tech stalking is a complex problem, but will continue to evolve along with technology. While law enforcement agencies may need to take baby steps to learn about and deal with it, enabling officers and investigators to do so will lay the foundation for future improvements and understanding — for everyone involved.
Editor's note: The Bureau of Justice Statistics' Special Report, which includes statistics on high-tech monitoring in stalking and harassment cases, is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/svus.pdf.
Christa Miller, a New England-based freelance writer who specializes in public safety issues, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.