The following story was originally published by the Medford High School Mustang News and is being published on InsideMedford.com with permission.
The Mustang News recently posed the following questions about bullying, cyberbullying, and the role of the police to Medford Police Lieutenant Paul Covino, who heads up the department’s Community Services division. Lt. Covino wrote the following responses via email.
Mustang News: What can the Medford police do for me in a situation of bullying and under what circumstances can they get involved?
Lt. Covino: First and foremost, you should report all suspected bullying actions to a school representative (teacher, counselor, submaster, headmaster, or principal etc.). The Medford Public Schools are very good at following up with these issues and taking the appropriate actions within the school’s power.
In some cases the Medford Police will assist as necessary in resolving such issues. The police may be involved by simply talking to the individuals and advising that they may be about to commit a criminal act if they continue on the road of harassing or bullying someone. We have also been involved in situations where we assisted school personnel in mediating a problem. We usually get involved when school personnel ask us to. Or, if a person who alleges to be a victim of bullying comes to us, we will talk to the principal or a responsible administrator at that school. We inform them of what was reported to us. Sometimes that is the first time that they are made aware of the situation. From there they (school personnel) investigate it and take whatever actions they can take to rectify the problem. Social Probation has been a great tool in these cases.
That being said, some parents come to the police because they are not satisfied with the action that the school has taken. This is usually the case for parents who want to see harsher punishments instilled. The fact of the matter is unless a criminal act has been committed there is not much we can do that the school hasn’t already done. Often the school punishment is more than what we can do.
Mustang News: What steps have the Medford police taken to stop bullying on the internet?
Lt. Covino: At this point in time, nobody can stop bullying on the internet. The only way we get involved is when something is brought to our attention by a concerned party. In most cases a crime has not been committed other than the crime of threatening to commit a crime. We then inform the school of this information. As I have said before the school usually takes action and makes great attempts to resolve the matter. IMPORTANT NOTE: Until parents become more responsible and pay attention to what there child is doing on the internet or a cell phone this problem will continue to grow. People (adults and children) tend to say far more damaging things about someone via the internet or text messages than they would to that person’s face.
Mustang News:What is the punishment for bullying since it’s not a technical crime?
Lt. Covino: It is not a crime! The bill on bullying was passed in the State House of Representatives. It has not been passed in the Senate yet, and it can’t be signed by the Governor until the Senate approves it. I do not have a copy of the proposal, but I believe it is geared more towards the schools having a policy in place on how to handle such situations, and that the principal would make a decision as to notify the police if he or she believes a crime has been committed. If a crime is believed to have been committed the police will investigate and decide what to do from there.
Sometimes it is better to resolve the problem without going to court. The District Attorney Gerald Leone also has a pre–complaint diversion program. This would allow the police to recommend that the accused go to this program if he or she qualifies for it. If that person qualifies for and completes the program, the complaints will not go forward in the court and this person will not have a record. At the same time we resolve the bulling issue and the crime that was committed.
Mustang News: Have you personally dealt with a situation of bullying and what did you do to resolve the problem?
Lt. Covino: I did participate in a mediation process in one of the middle schools. As far as I am aware it went well and the students are getting along. But, for the most part our school resource officers usually handle these matters. I have to jump in on occasion and help out because we are so short handed.
Mustang News: Do you think that there should be a program similar to D.A.R.E to stop bullying?
Lt. Covino: We did once have DARE in the high school and middle schools. One of the components was not just about bullying but how students treat each other even when it doesn’t rise to that of bullying. I would like to see something like this in middle and high school again. Not just a bullying class. If we ever get our number of officers up to where we can function with officers working in this capacity, then we would love to get it reinstated at those levels of school. The sad thing here is why do the police and teachers have to teach students how to properly treat each other? Where are the parents?
Mustang News: What should students do if they feel threatened and do not want to “be the rat” and tell an adult about their situation?
Lt.Covino: A rat is a person that commits a crime, gets caught, and then tells on everyone else that is involved. You often see high level gangsters doing this, so they do not have to go to prison.
A person that is being victimized or is a witness to a crime is not a rat for reporting an alleged crime to the police or the proper authorities. I would at least encourage that person to tell a friend or an adult that they can confide in. They need to talk to someone about their situation. Hopefully, that person will get the courage to come forward for help. Hopefully the friend that they confided in will at tell someone of authority.
Even though it seems like the toughest thing to do, it is much easier to confront the situation and deal with the issues at hand sooner than later. Waiting too long could lead to the bullying getting worse and worse. We have seen tragedies from youth killing themselves to youth killing other youth because a situation was not handled early on when it could be easily managed or eradicated.
Mustang News: When is the Medford Police available to students to talk about a situation like bullying and what kind of a bullying problem is “right” for the police to handle?
Lt. Covino: We are open 24/7. We have never turned someone away that wanted to file a report for bullying or school incidents.
If you can not reach one of our school resource officers, (Off. Jim Ricciardi at MHS, Off. Dave Ciampi at the middle schools, DARE Officer Patrick O’Keefe in the elementary schools) you can file a report at the Main Desk of the Medford Police Station. A copy of that report will be forwarded to the appropriate SRO (School Resource Officer) or to me, and I will see that the appropriate SRO follows up on the reported issue. They will also bring this to the attention of the school administration. If this is a situation that a student is outside of school and there is an eminent threat of harm to that person, he or she should call the police immediately, so that we can deal with that incident that is happening or about to happen. Then the SRO’s can follow up when they come back into work the next day.