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Cyberbullying: What AZ laws are on the books to combat the problem?

Cyberbullying laws vary from state to state

Cyberbullying: What AZ laws are on the books to combat the problem?

CREATED Feb 9, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- Law enforcement has played an essential role in helping schools deal with bullying and the recent rise in teen suicides. It's a hot topic in schools these days. In fact, this past school year, more schools have called the Tucson Police Department's Gang Intervention Unit to talk to students and staff about the legal issues surrounding cyberbullying. So KGUN9 OYS wanted to know what laws are on the books.

Since cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, most states do not have specific laws on cyberbullying. Arizona has two laws on the books, but as we found out they may be too vague to really combat cyberbullying.

Officer Delia Marquez doesn't mince words when she's teaching students and school staff about bullying and cyberbullying. She spells out the rules .. so we asked her about the two state laws that exist. One is HB 2368 - which requires school district governing boards to adopt and enforce procedures that prohibit bullying on school grounds. "It's not in the books that say it's against the law to bully, but what's against the law is the actual acts that make up bullying, like the threats and intimidation," said Officer Marquez.

But when it comes to threats in cyberspace, the closest law you'll find was passed just last year as HB 2415. It includes harassment, bullying and intimidating with the use of electronic technology.

KGUN 9 asked Officer Marquez if that law was enough.  She answered, "I think that's very vague. In my opinion it's vague just because how you see it and how another principal sees it. It can be totally two different things. and I think it needs to be written in black and white, verbatim, what they expect administration to do."

Arizona's school districts are given autonomy in how they define and handle bullying and cyberbullying.  Officer Marquez says without clear definitions of what constitutes cyberbullying -- schools may not call police if situations get serious and many students are involved. For example, police are finding more students videotaping kids being bullied and posting them on YouTube or Facebook. Officer Marquez said, "I mean there's proof of what's going on obviously, by the videotaping of it. but the people who are videotaping and then putting it out there, i think they're just as guilty, but my hands are tied in law enforcement."

Officer Marquez says the laws need to be more technical -- spelling out specific terms when it comes to social media -- and how cyberbullying is defined and enforced in schools and by police. She said then they've have a more effective legal tool to use when dealing with this issue.

KGUN9 also learned that the Unit was told a few months ago that it would be disbanded, however, we've been told that TPD administrators may reconsider the move.