As the school year begins, it is time to take a hard look at bullying and cyber bullying in our schools and community.
The Riverside Police Department has seen an increase in reported bullying and cyber bullying cases. Let’s start by defining the two. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is usually repeated, or has potential to be repeated, over time. Cyber bullying is bullying through technology, such as computers and cell phones. Law enforcement officers are increasingly confronted with cyber bullying complaints due to the prevalence of technology used by children and youth, and new legislation and laws addressing these types of incidents.
During the last month, the Riverside Police Department has trained all their police personnel on preparing and responding to bullying and cyber bullying investigations. In partnership with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, officers have been trained to respond to complaints and how to address those concerns. The training included knowing the latest laws under Illinois statutes, how to preserve and manage digital evidence, proper referrals for offenders to either counseling or the criminal justice system, and have a written police policy on protocols and training for bullying and cyber bullying incidents.
Each Riverside officer has been issued a tip card that includes over 20 recommendations to address bullying and cyber bullying. These tip cards include such training and response areas as youth trauma, mental health issues, computer crimes, victim services and education. The cards provide guidance for preparation, response and investigation by Riverside police officers.
The real prevention for bullying and cyber bullying starts with our educators in the schools. I am happy to say I have discussed this with our school leaders in Riverside and they have written protocols and policies and are ready to handle these situations.
Members of the Riverside Police Department are giving bullying a second look, recognizing its detrimental impact on the lives of bullies and their victims. Multiple studies have emphasized the link between bullying and antisocial and/or criminal behavior. Overall, bullying complaints received by the Riverside Police Department have been low, but are on the increase.
Let’s have a safe and productive school year!
Thomas Weitzel is chief of police in the village of Riverside