Vernon County takes step toward ending cyber bullying
The problem of bullying is nothing new, but bullying in the cyber world is, and it's a growing concern that law enforcement is struggling to deal with.
That's why Vernon County is taking a new step to try and put an end to cyber bullying.
Last week the Vernon County Board passed an ordinance that's aimed at keeping people from sending bullying messages through the Internet or on any mobile device.
Those who support the ordinance said it will give law enforcement another tool to put a stop to cyber bullying.
While they said it's a step in the right direction, others worry it threatens freedom of speech.
But there's no question cyber bullying is a growing problem.
"Fifteen to 25percent report being bullied at school or at home or wherever but it's almost 43- to 44-percent of electronic bullying that goes on," said Vernon County Sheriff John Spears.
Vernon County is looking to solve the problem by passing an ordinance that gives law enforcement the ability to fine people for cyber bullying.
"Basically it says whoever sends information to another person by electronic means with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage or humiliate any person and which serves no legitimate purpose, and then it goes on to the forfeiture the fines," said Spears.
"Why did we do it? To help out. There's kids that really get bullied. I know if I had a kid in school I wouldn't want them to go through that. I drove a school bus for quite a few years so I know quite a bit about that," said Vernon County Board Chairman Herbert Cornell.
Cornell said the ordinance passed 22 to 5. Board members who voted against it were worried about violating people's freedom of speech.
"They were concerned about the First Amendment and the attorneys who looked at it were quite cautious and didn't think there would be a problem with it," said Cornell.
"It's our ordinance. If down the road we have some legal challenges and we say we need to narrow it or change it we can do that. Right now I think they've done a good job on it," said Spears.
Spears said enforcement will rely on people coming forward with their evidence.
"It is very simple to prove. If I send you a threatening text message and threaten you or bully you it's easy for you to walk up to the Sheriff's Office and say I'm getting threats from John Spears and show me your phone and there's no mistake about it," said Spears.
The fines range from $50 to $500.
There is a state law similar to the ordinance; if charged, it goes on your record.
Spears said this ordinance gives people an opportunity to avoid that by having it handled on a local level.
This ordinance is already in place in Viroqua.
Cornell said they modeled their ordinance after Viroqua's.
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