Increased technology gives UAPD more tools to trace prank callers

By Holly Wells
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 12, 2004

Students often find prank calls of the heavy-breather and hang-up variety entertaining and funny.

But some calls are considered harassment and can be prosecuted, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UAPD spokesman.

Because of increased technology, including Global Positioning System and cell phone tracking features, police can track such prank calls and find out who's behind them.

A UA junior, who wished to remain anonymous because of an incident involving police last year, said he started making prank calls when he was 10. He stopped only last year, when police got close to catching him.

For his final prank call, the student, along with his friends, called a girl in a residence hall and left a message saying they were in love with her. At the end of the message, the student left his friend's telephone number on the answering machine.

"It was a way of pranking two people at once; my friend had no idea what was going on," he said.

Soon after, police were questioning the student's friend, who was still unaware of the prank call. Police continued to look for the student, but were unable to track him.

"That was the last straw; I stopped making prank calls after that," he said.

The student said that these days, it's difficult for people to make prank calls.

"It used to be a lot easier before caller ID, and the ramifications were a lot less," he said. "Now, police can catch you much easier and quicker than people might think."

Mejia said although some calls are still untraceable, that will change in the near future.

"As we get more high-tech, almost every call that is made, we should be able to track," he said. "Even cell phones are beginning to have GPS systems built in, and (cell phones) have been used to help solve criminal cases."

Mejia said dispatch gets consistent reports of prank calls every year, usually from students in residence halls.

Vivian Lien, a molecular and cellular biology senior, said a man used to call her with a voice modulator and mumble random things.

"It was just really annoying," she said.

Mejia said calls are considered harassing if they continue to the point where the person receiving them is disturbed.

But the distinction between a prank call and a harassing phone call can sometimes be difficult, as it is up to the individual to determine whether callers cross the line, Mejia said.

Mejia said if a call can be traced, police can identify who's been making the calls.

"If they're not arrested at that point, they receive a warning," he said.

Mejia said most of the time, victims don't want to press charges against the person making the calls; they just want the calls to end.

If students receive prank calls they consider harassing or threatening, they are supposed to dial star-57, which sends a signal to the Center for Computing and Information Technology so the call can be tracked.

Students should then call UAPD and can get printouts from CCIT of the traces. Police use these printouts to identify the prank callers.

The junior said although he had been prank-called on several occasions, it's never bothered him.

"I try to humor the person instead of getting upset. It's funny," he said. "If it's someone who's calling anonymous, chances are they're not going to hurt you; they're just looking for a laugh."

- Natasha Bhuyan contributed to this report.