Cyberbullying crackdown is priority for sheriff’s office

October 23, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

King County Sheriff’s Office investigators could soon crack down on cyberbullying, after the King County Council approved a motion introduced by Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn.

Reagan Dunn

Cyberbullying is the use of information and technology to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior. The crime exploded in recent years due to the prevalence of social media services, and gained national attention last year after classmates targeted a then-12-year-old Issaquah girl online.

Dunn said cyberbullying is increasingly a concern for law enforcement agencies.

“In recent months, all across the country, we have seen tragedies unfold as a result of cyberbullying,” he said in a statement. “This motion will allow the sheriff’s office to study this issue thoroughly and ensure King County has a plan to deal with any of these troubling bullying trends.”

(Dunn represents rural areas south of Issaquah and Newcastle on the council.)

In the Issaquah incident, a then-12-year-old girl and a then-11-year-old girl posted lewd messages and photographs on a classmate’s Facebook page.

The incident generated national attention, generated a “Today” segment and raised questions about bullying in the social media age.

Under orders from a King County Juvenile Court judge, the girls had to complete community service and apologize to the classmate for the incident. (Under state law, the girls faced a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in juvenile detention for cyberstalking and computer trespassing.)

Dunn’s motion called on the sheriff’s office to transmit a report on cyberbullying in unincorporated King County. The report should include the annual number and status of investigations associated with cyberbullying in unincorporated King County and compare the figures to national trends.

The council endorsed the motion in a unanimous vote Sept. 17.

The measure also directs the sheriff to investigate whether additional resources for training should support cyberbullying investigations in unincorporated King County.

“Technology-based crimes of harassment and intimidation affect young and old,” Sheriff Steve Strachan said in a statement. “As we progress and become more dependent on Internet-based communication, a cyberbully can target a senior citizen as easily as a young teen. We need to better understand the criminal environment and trends in King County.”

Officers probably do not hear about many cyberbullying incidents in Issaquah because people do not report them to police, Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers said last month.

“We didn’t see very much prior to that one case happening,” he added. “I just don’t see a trend coming down that would change that, but it might because social media is a lot more prevalent even than it was a year ago. I could see people reporting things more often.”

The cyberbullying measure from Dunn came as the state attorney general campaign season nears Election Day. Dunn, a Republican, is running for state attorney general against a council colleague, Democrat Bob Ferguson.

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