Harford talks stalking at community forum

Stalking continues to be a problem in Harford County and around the state, a group of local speakers said at a community forum held by the county's Commission for Women on Thursday.

The four presenters – Barbara Przbylski, of Absolute Investigation, Gwendolyn Tate, of SARC, Alison Healy, of the State's Attorney's Office, and Cpl. Lisa Lane, of the Harford County Sheriff's Office – talked to a crowd of about 18 people about dealing with stalkers.

The free forum at the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air was held as part of National Stalking Awareness Month.

The presenters said it Is important for victims to document all signs of stalking and to recognize that they are victims.

"We spend a lot of time telling people: document everything," Tate said, adding that even something that seems insignificant could help the case.

Healy added that some people write in a journal, which can also be useful as evidence.

Maryland's anti-stalking law is not very good, the presenters agreed, because it requires proof of intent to stalk.

Stalking is a misdemeanor, but can still carry jail time, Healy noted.

She recalled a recent case with an 18-year-old, who was stalking his on-and-off girlfriend, in a relationship that ultimately became volatile.

She said the young man was using a technique called "spamming" to try to jam the girl's cell phone by sending incessant text messages.

He ultimately pleaded guilty and went to jail, Healy said, even though he had no prior record.

Healy noted Harford County investigates about 1,200 domestic violence cases annually, of which stalking cases are a part.

Przbylski said it is sometimes useful to have friends document events, too.

"Sometimes it's not just the person being stalked, but it's a friend who can solidify it, or a family member," she said. "Sometimes other people notice it before you notice it."

Przbylski also said she has seen more people asking for background checks on their significant others.

"I think we need to be more aware of who we are dating," she said.

Technology can become a major tool for stalkers, who are often very tech-savvy and come up with new programs or ways to keep tabs on their victims, the presenters said.

Tate said she has seen cases where GPS devices were found installed in victims' cars, or the suspect used a keystroke logging program to track the victim's computer or phone use.

One significant action victims or potential victims can take to prevent stalking is to turn off the GPS tracking on their phones. They can also vary the routes they drive, install cameras or put in outdoor lighting.

Some suspects used a technique called "spoofing" to hide the number they were calling from.

Przbylski said she just did an investigation on a woman's house in which nine phone bugs were found.

Ultimately, Healy said, stalking is "all about having power and controlling the behavior."

Preventing people from stalking again is also very difficult, Healy and Tate said.

Tate said about one-third of stalkers will stalk again or stalked previously.

Even seemingly innocent cases of stalking should be reported to police.

"What could be a pest stalker today could certainly become a violent person down the road," Lane said. "You need to consider them all dangerous."

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