How Should Law Enforcement Respond to Cyberbullying Incidents?

Apr 15, 2015|By: Laurie Nathan, Deputy Director, Programs and Partnerships, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and Sarah Sisaye, U.S. Department of Education and former Ed Board member
Posted In: Cyberbullying

More and more, law-enforcement officers are being called in to handle cases of cyberbullying among kids and teens. If you aren’t familiar with the term, cyberbullying is bullying through technology, such as computers and cell phones. You may have seen cases in the news where police were involved as part of the investigation. Is it appropriate for law enforcement to be involved in these cases? When should they leave it to parents and schools to resolve?

When staff from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) deliver presentations on cyberbullying to educators and police, we are often asked about their roles. From educators, we hear “When should I call the police?” From law enforcement, we hear “What are my responsibilities when dealing with these cases?”

In a survey from the Cyberbullying Research Center, 94% of School Resources Officers (SROs) and 82% of traditional police officers said that cyberbullying incidents are serious and merit police response. Obviously there are times when they must get involved, including situations when there are physical threats or ongoing harassment. But there are also less obvious cases where schools and parents aren’t sure if a crime has been committed. What should you do in those situations?

Because of these concerns, NCMEC and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) partnered to create a tip sheet, Preparing and Responding to Cyberbullying: Tips for Law Enforcement. In this tip sheet, we strongly recommend that police work closely with schools and other professionals in their communities. We encourage them to:

  • Provide training on this issue to their staff;
  • Encourage schools to have prevention education programs;
  • Host community presentations to educate the public about this issue; and
  • Recommend schools have a way for students to report cyberbullying.

These types of proactive steps will help law enforcement work with others in the community to quickly address cyberbullying incidents. Our hope is that if a system is in place, there will be fewer negative consequences for the students involved and a more positive school climate overall.

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