Crime task force puts bullying in its sights

About 43 percent of young people in America have experienced some form of bullying and 60 percent of those incidents go unreported according to officials with the East Metro Crime Prevention Coalition.

The group, made up of the county attorneys and sheriffs from Washington, Ramsey and Dakota county, organized a forum geared to change that on Wednesday. Speakers from schools, people who’ve dealt with cyber-bullying and other law enforcement members were also at the session. The group hopes they can work together to stop bullying, reduce crime in the long run and allow kids to grow up strong, safe, happy and healthy.

“Though a lot of bullying behavior is not criminal in nature, some are far from it. We’re hoping to stop it before it escalates into further violence down the road,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom about the group.

The group wants to establish preventative measures on cyber-bullying going forward. They mentioned one incident in Wright County where a girl who’s inappropriate sexual picture message or ‘sext’ was sent to her boyfriend who then sent it to 14 other people which resulted in bullying at school.

Backstrom said the victim in that case was given the opportunity to talk to the kids involved in the incident and share her side of the story. He added that it helped empower the victim in that incident. They feel that preventative measures like this could help deal with the issue in the long run.

Although the group said some community members may see bullying as simply a rite of passage, bullying is different today than it was in the past.

“Bullying now is no more than just pushing a button. It’s then forwarded and sent to other people,” said Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton. “Before we could resolve the issue quickly, when it occurred on the playground or in the halls, but now it’s out there and you can’t get it back.”

The anonymity of social media, computer screens and electronics makes the source of cyber-bullying difficult to find and allows perpetrators to be extremely cruel.

What the coalition hopes to do is empower kids to step up, do the right thing and report incidents to people who can help.

“What one speaker said today at the presentation that struck a chord with me was that tattling is about getting someone in trouble, while telling on someone is about helping somebody,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

The group also encourages parents to listen to their children and let them know that they are there to help and no privileges will be taken away if their child is a bullying victim.

“You need to keep reporting it beyond the initial incident, keep reporting it until the hurting stops, we’ve all seen with past events what can happen when someone lives with the hurt,” Choi said, referring suicides that have occurred due to bullying. “And if you fear for your safety, you should always call 9-1-1.”

Other courses of action suggested by the attorneys included getting a civil harassment restraining order against a bully. Washington County First Assistant County Attorney Brent Wartner suggests if the issue takes place over social media to report it to the site standards office.

How victims deal with the emotional impact is something that Wartner said they weren’t sure how to handle. He feels the decision would be best left to families and schools which know the kids well.

“The point is that we need to communicate to other agencies and kids and develop a community that values getting people to come forward and develop action steps that encourage kids to tell those with a solution what’s going on.” he added.

The group said when it comes to a problem there’s always a solution, and that is something they hope to find.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]