A bullying incident at Parker High School has reignited passions among some people calling for the Janesville City Council to adopt an anti-bullying ordinance.
Lest anyone forget, the city council settled this issue last year, recognizing the pitfalls of trying to legislate for something that current law prohibits in most respects.
The incident in question, captured on video and shared on social media, shows a female student accusing another of stealing and then hitting the victim twice. When the student bends down to pick up her belongings off the floor, another student hits her.
That is called assault, and the Janesville police investigated quickly. They arrested two people on battery charges, Police Chief Dave Moore told The Gazette on Tuesday. “In this case, we wouldn’t even entertain an ordinance violation. This is a criminal act, and we made the arrests for the crime accordingly,” he said.
Moore said an anti-bullying ordinance wouldn’t change how officers approach bullying incidents at schools. Along with assault, police can arrest people for disorderly conduct, harassment, making threats and improper use of telephone and computer equipment.
Schools also have tools, such as suspension and expulsion, for addressing the type of incident captured in the video, though the district declined to comment on how it handled the case.
An anti-bullying advocate, Angelia Babcock, holds up this incident as evidence the city needs an anti-bullying ordinance. “We need to bring all entities to the table,” she said. “The school district, the police department, the city council and the community.”
The two entities best positioned to address bullying at schools—the police and school officials—are already at the table. Both the police and school officials work to prevent disputes among students from escalating into something more serious.
“Had someone called us, whether to the police or CrimeStoppers or a P3 (tip) through CrimeStoppers, it would have given us a chance to intervene before the assault had occurred,” Moore said about the Parker High School incident.
Anti-bullying advocates imply that new laws are needed to end bullying once and for all, but this is wishful thinking. The proposed ordinance tabled by the city council last year did little more than list those laws already on the books.
The only new tool the ordinance would have given police is the ability to fine parents whose kids engage in bullying. But there’s scant data to suggest fining parents deters their kids from bullying. More important, police aren’t going to hand out citations when a crime has occurred and the suspects deserve to face charges like in the Parker High School incident.
The community should continue to discourage bullying and take action whenever it surfaces, as the police did in making the two arrests. But anti-bullying ordinances are feel-good measures that do nothing to solve the problem. The city council should avoid relitigating this issue and stay focused on developing ordinances that actually would be effective.