Suspects increasingly being arrested in St. Lawrence County for harassing by Facebook, texting
Sunday, May 20, 2012 - 7:59 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

Local law enforcement officials say they have seen an increase in crimes such as harassment being transmitted by newer methods such as Facebook and texting.

“Cyberstalking,” “cyberbullying” and “cyberharassment” are not new offenses, they say, but are simply old offenses by newer means.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells he has seen an increase in harassment cases through “social media and texting, not just at the school level, but among older adults, and in domestic cases on down to neighbor issues.”

The Potsdam Police Department’s new chief, Kevin Bates, says the younger officers on his force have the experience to make an investigation of such a case easier for them.

“We have a group of young law enforcement officers who are very familiar with texting, Facebook and similar applications. It’s much easier for them investigate these types of complaints.

“The younger officers have grown up using the different media,” and it’s a part of their experience they can tap into.

Sheriff Wells said that some of his officers do not have much knowledge of the “new media,” and don’t participate, “while other officers may. It’s not necessarily an age thing.”

Chief Bates said “when we get a complaint like that, most times the complainant has saved the text message or a printout of the Facebook page. Usually it’s a person they know so it’s not difficult to get ahold of the suspect.”

Depending on what the offended party might want, a suspect might get a warning, or an arrest can be made, Bates said.

“In the more difficult cases, we can subpoena telephone or computer records, which we might get from Facebook or the phone company.”

The New York law covering harassments includes a reference to communication by “electronic means” used to deliver a harassing message, which mainly meant, at the time the law was passed, the telephone. So far legislators have not seen a need to revise the law, since the latest means of harassment appear to be covered.

New York Penal Law Article 240 includes definitions of the ways aggravated harassment can be committed, including “by telephone, by telegraph, or by mail, or by transmitting or delivering any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm,” also through recordings.

“It’s just another technology,” Wells said, but he did note that “sometimes I think people will say things they wouldn’t say face to face, and the way the law is written, harassment by electronic means could be a more serious crime.”

And he said these new media can be another source of evidence for all sorts of investigations.

Wells said any case an investigator might be assigned “can have a social media component these days. It’s morphed into part of what we do, including investigations of domestic violence, larceny, criminal investigations of any type, not just two people going after each other.”