Unlawful use of the telephone has increased steadily over the last few years and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office wants to educate citizens about their rights and responsibilities to curb this trend. Florida Law makes harassing and obscene phone calls a criminal offense. Any call that you receive where the intent is to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass should be handled as any other criminal act and reported to your local law enforcement agency.
Fortunately, the advancement of communications, increased use of cellular telephones instead of land lines and functions such as Caller ID, Call Block and Call Trace certainly detract from the anonymity of nuisance callers.
To discourage harassing calls, don’t answer questions from callers that you wouldn’t answer if they were asked by a stranger on the street.
If you’re not interested in talking, say so. If the caller is rude enough not to let you go graciously, then hang up.
If the caller asks, “Who is this?” or “What number is this?” don’t answer. Instead ask, “What number did you call?” or “Who are you trying to reach?”
Never talk on the phone to anyone you can’t positively identify. An innocent comment such as “My husband is out of town” can be helpful to a burglar. (Also educate children and babysitters about this.)
If a caller remains silent after you answer the phone, hang up. Some want to listen just to see what you’ll do or how agitated you get.
Callers who make obscene or suggestive remarks do so to terrify or infuriate recipients. These criminals would like nothing better than for you to verbally engage them. Hang up and don’t give them the satisfaction.
An obscene or harassing phone call is a misdemeanor, which means that you, the victim, are the only one who can file a complaint against the offender. It is your responsibility to prove that a crime has occurred. For this reason, you may be asked to furnish an affidavit to the State Attorney’s Office explaining the facts of the offense. To be properly prepared, you must maintain a log of all calls received with the date, time and description of the call and caller.
When you first report nuisance calls to the Sheriff’s Office, an offense report will be prepared relating the facts of the crime. Be sure to ask for the case number assigned to your report. Depending on the information you provide, the case may be assigned to a detective to conduct an investigation sufficient to identify the caller.
Most telephone companies will assist law enforcement with an investigation. If tracing equipment is needed, they will do so upon our request and with your permission. While it may reveal the number from which the calls originated, it may not, however, definitively identify the caller themselves. But a trace can furnish law enforcement with a starting point for its investigation.
If the caller can be identified, the facts will be presented to the State Attorney and the investigators will obtain a warrant for the caller’s arrest. After this occurs, you will be required to go to court to testify about the nature and frequency of the calls you received.
Most phone companies have information to assist you in using your Call Trace feature. Verizon customers can contact the Unlawful Call Center at 1.800.257.2969.
To report a nuisance call, contact the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office at 941.861.5800.