For almost a year, policeman Stefan (fictitious name) and his family were harassed by a local resident. He threatened Stefan with death, watched his house with binoculars and was seen at his wife’s work. “Just because I wear a uniform,” says Stefan in conversation with NU.nl.
Stefan never actually had any problems with the neighbour. They greeted each other while walking their dogs. Until he saw Stefan once with his uniform on. Then he made a comment. “You’re with the woods, aren’t you?” he asked. But it went no further than a comment.
Until colleagues of Stefan paid a visit to the local resident. He threatened the officers with a knife and was arrested. Then he pointed to Stefan’s house. “There’s a cop living there,” he said. “I dream of putting a bullet in his head.”
“It turned out that he just hates the police,” says Stefan. “Because he knew I lived near him, I became the personification of that.” Despite the threat, Stefan did not press charges. In this way he hoped to keep the good peace in the area. “I didn’t want trouble, I wanted him to get help.”
Easy to find on social media
But it was only the beginning. Weapons were found at the man’s house and it later turned out that he had binoculars aimed at Stefan’s house. The man was released a few days after his arrest. But because he had made a threat to Stefan when he was arrested, the police made a threat analysis. The outcome: a ‘very real’ threat.
“My social media was also examined by the police,” says Stefan. “It turned out that I was easy to find on different platforms, I had never thought of that. My wife was also easy to find. Her employer was linked. The neighbor was also seen at my wife’s work.”
Security measures did not help
To be on the safe side, eye-catching cameras were hung on Stefan’s house. His wife had to wear an alarm around her neck when she left home so she could call the police quickly. Stefan no longer let his child cycle certain routes unsupervised.
In the end, Stefan felt so threatened that he applied for a restraining order. Although he got it, the man ignored the ban. “He would sometimes smile for my cameras.”
Despite all security measures, the problem persisted. Stefan was already talking to a real estate agent to discuss the possibilities for a move. But when the mayor and the police chief got wind of the case, it was Stefan’s neighbor who was forced to move to another city under pressure.
The House of Representatives wants to criminalize harassment based on private data
Stefan is by no means the only agent who has to deal with threats and intimidation. “Officers are often photographed and filmed,” he says. “These images are then put online without context with the question: who knows this person?”
Sharing personal information, such as names and addresses, for the purpose of intimidating someone is called doxing. Journalists and politicians are regularly confronted with this form of intimidation. For example, the private address of D66 leader Sigrid Kaag was distributed online in early 2022. She was threatened at the door.
Stefan’s situation is also a case of doxing, says police union ACP. “Invasion of privacy and harassment can fall under the heading of doxing,” says a spokesperson. “In this case, it is not directly about making his private information public. However, a considerable invasion of the privacy of the police officer has been made.”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is working on legislation to make doxing a criminal offense. This will be discussed on Thursday afternoon. A vote to pass the law is expected soon. Exactly which definition of doxing will be included in the criminalization is still unclear.
If everything goes ahead, doxing will carry a maximum prison sentence of one year. “Much too low”, says Stefan. “It is good that doxing is made punishable, but one year should be the minimum sentence. But we do not do minimum sentences in the Netherlands.”
Unknowingly still doing it
Intimidation can have a major effect, even after the danger has passed. “I am always alert for my work,” says Stefan. “But I was at home too. I didn’t relax anymore.” A psychologist helped him and his wife process the events.
Despite the departure of his stalker over a year ago, the cameras are still hanging on Stefan’s house. “It gives a bit of peace.” Yet he still looks up when he sees someone with the same kind of dog as his old neighbour. “That goes unconsciously. You think for a moment: is that him?”
Acknowledgment: Stefan’s real name is known to the editors, but has been anonymized in this story for security reasons.