Before getting law enforcement involved in a bullying situation it is beneficial for parents and schools to understand the laws regarding bullying and the role the police can play in keeping our children safe. For example, our freedom of speech rights prohibit the police from prosecuting someone for saying something hurtful. Legal action can be taken against remarks that are direct threats against life or property. The following are tips for parents that will help in understanding the role of law enforcement.
Tip #1: Be informed of the difference between Pennsylvania Law and School District Policy
- At this time there is no law against bullying in Pennsylvania.
- Cyber-harassing and cyber-stalking are against the law in Pennsylvania.
- The PA Department of Education mandates anti-bullying policies.
- Each school district has its own procedures to address bullying.
Tip #2: If you call law enforcement, be prepared to provide information and evidence
- Keep documents and record events–take screen shots and make time-lines.
- Describe bullying in terms of existing laws, like property damage, harassment, identity theft, etc…
- If possible, maintain contact with one police officer.
Tip #3: Be knowledgeable about what police can and cannot do.
- Many law enforcement officers do not have the tools and experience to address incidents of bullying and cyber-bullying.
- Law enforcement officers frequently do not have access to or are not aware of resources like The Peace Center and technology-based forensic labs to conduct sufficient investigations.
What The Police Can Do
- They can determine if a law has been broken.
- They can conduct an investigation and obtain a search warrant based upon probable cause.
- They can make arrests.
What The Police Cannot Do
- They cannot enforce particular attitudes and emotions.
- They cannot conduct an investigation or make an arrest based upon emotional harm or malicious behaviors.
- They cannot become your sole advocate.
Terms Worth Knowing
Reasonable Doubt–a standard of proof that must be surpassed to convict an accused person in a criminal proceeding.
Probable Cause–standard by which a law enforcement officer has the grounds to make an arrest, to conduct a personal or property search, or to obtain a warrant for arrest, when criminal charges are being considered.
Reasonable Suspicion–less than probable cause, standard by which schools have grounds to conduct searches and/or investigations.