Tracing calls may end phone harassment

Harassing phone calls, otherwise known as harassing communications, continue to be a problem to dorm residents on the campus of Northern Kentucky University, but new technology is helping to catch the offender.

This semester, approximately five to six women have received calls on a regular basis by a male asking questions such as “What are you wearing?”

“It’s a sexual thing,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Martin of the Department of Public Safety at NKU. “It’s obvious he’s relieving his own tension.”

Martin said DPS is “triple teaming” the problem. They have been working with Barb Barnes in the telecommunications department of NKU as well as Cincinnati Bell.

According to Martin, tracing calls originating off campus has been a problem due to the universities complex phone system.

Barns said the university owns its own switch. It has a collection system that stores data from every phone on the campus. As soon as the phone is hung up, the system registers the time, what number the call was made from, what number was called and the number of seconds of the call.

If the call originates on campus it can be traced, but what it can’t do is trace incoming calls.

However, Cincinnati Bell has a new system, referred to by Martin as “call trapping”, that will allow incoming calls to be traced.

“It’s not like on TV where you have to hold them on the line for two to three minutes,” said Martin. “A soon as you answer, they trap it, it’s instantaneous.”

The person receiving the call has to keep a log of the time the phone call comes in and if it were a friendly or harassing call.

A recent victim alerted the caller that the call was being traced and he hasn’t called back since.

Martin said it’s better not to alert the caller so they have a better chance of catching him, but he understands the fear of those who receive the calls.

“You want him to make calls so we can catch him,” Martin said. “The overwhelming majority, 99.9 percent of these calls, never end up with personal contact. But anyone who gets these calls needs to take extra precautions; be a little more cautious about their environment.”

Barnes said the telephone harassment has been a problem for a long time. “Gay men have been harassed as well,” said Barns. “It’s an on campus issue as well as off campus.”

She said phone numbers have been changed frequently due to the harassment and a couple of times the university has installed a multi-line phone with caller ID capabilities to help catch a caller. “In the future we plan to be able to collect incoming calls as well,” said Barns.

Martin recounted how last semester a rash a calls led to an arrest of a man in New York. He had called many universities including some in New York, Eastern Kentucky University and NKU.

According to Martin, all the calls were made to women, all were in dorms and he never called the same number twice. It’s possible the numbers were obtained through online registries.

Jim Young, a former DPS officer who is now with the Ft. Thomas Police Department, said harassing communications is a class B misdemeanor that is punishable with up to 90 days in jail plus a fine.

A dispatcher with the Campbell County Police Department who asked not to be identified, said people who receive harassing communications off campus should call 911. An officer will take a report and advise the victim to call Cincinnati Bell, who will put a tape on the phone.

Martin advises anyone on campus who receives these calls should call DPS right away so they can start an investigation.