For just over three years now, the Gillette Police Department (GPD) has had an electronics harassment ordinance, 14-31, in place to handle digital harassment issues, which can occur through any form of electronic communication from land-line calls, cell phones, email, text messaging, and social media interaction.
“Normal communications have been replaced by digital communications,” GPD Lieutenant Brent Wasson said. “The reason for the update [a few years ago] is that the existing ordinance only pertained to harassing phone calls, and, obviously, there are many more ways to harass someone electronically.”
So long as the elements of the ordinance are met, charges can stem from one to multiple incidents.
The ordinance describes intent as correspondence calculated “to abuse, intimidate, threaten, annoy, offend, or harass any person receiving the telephone call or electronic communication.”
Wasson noted that digital harassment offenses occur across all age groups. He has seen incidents involving divorced couples working out child custody issues and school-aged students picking on one another.
“Typically, we’ll contact people, and through the investigation, try to determine the intent and give a warning. In most cases, someone doesn’t get a citation [for digital harassment] until they ignore the warning,” Wasson said.
To date, GPD has issued 21 digital harassment citations since the 2016 ordinance update. In 2017 they issued nine citations, eight in 2018, and, so far, four this year.
Digital harassment is a misdemeanor that carries fines of up to $750.