Monona police can now cite parents for a child's bullying

2013-06-02T08:00:00Z Monona police can now cite parents for a child's bullyingDOUG ERICKSON | Wisconsin State Journal | derickson@madison.com | 608-252-6149 madison.com

Monona parents whose children repeatedly bully others can now be ticketed by police and fined in municipal court.

The approach, part of a broader anti-bullying ordinance passed May 20 by the Monona City Council, appears to break new ground in the national effort to reduce harassment and emotional abuse among young people.

Julie Hertzog, director of the National Bullying Prevention Center in Bloomington, Minn., said she had not heard of such a tactic and was hesitant to comment for that reason. “This is the first time it’s been on my radar,” she said.

Likewise, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities said it could find no other municipal ordinances in the state that hold parents accountable for an offspring’s bullying. The Monona ordinance took effect Thursday.

Monona Police Chief Wally Ostrenga said no specific incident led to the ordinance, just a general concern about the tragic consequences of bullying, including a rash of school shootings and teen suicides across the country.

He thinks the parent-liability clause will be used sparingly, if at all, and only in cases where parents are obstructive or uncooperative. He hopes the mere threat of a ticket will be enough.

“Sometimes you’ll knock on someone’s door and they won’t want to talk to you — their kids are perfect, they could never do anything wrong,” Ostrenga said. “This is for those times when we get the door slammed in our faces.”

Parents who are making a good-faith effort to address a child’s behavior would not be ticketed, he said.

City Attorney William S. Cole called the tactic “a tool of last resort” and said he believes it would withstand a court challenge.

Parents can’t be blindsided under the ordinance. Before being ticketed, a parent or guardian must be informed in writing by an officer of a separate violation of bullying by the same minor within the prior 90 days.

A ticket is a municipal code violation, not a criminal offense. (Only the state Legislature can make something a criminal offense.)

A first violation of the parent-liability clause carries a $114 fine. Subsequent violations within the same year carry fines of $177 each.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Jason Burns, executive director of Equality Wisconsin, a Milwaukee nonprofit organization that works on bullying prevention in schools. “It forces parents to be more involved in their child’s life, if they’re not already.”

The broader ordinance prohibits any person age 12 or older from engaging in bullying, subject to similar municipal fines. The ordinance defines bullying as “an intentional course of conduct which is reasonably likely to intimidate, emotionally abuse, slander, threaten or intimidate another person and which serves no legitimate purpose.”

Much of the broader ordinance addresses conduct already prohibited by state statute, Ostrenga said. However, the state statutes don’t use the term “bullying.” The city wanted to be explicit and public about its stand against bullying, he said.

Much of the work on the parent-liability clause — the unique aspect of the ordinance — was done by Monona Det. Sgt. Ryan Losby, who shepherded the ordinance through a year-long city review process. Losby said he was motivated by research showing almost all of the recent school shootings in the country were committed by students who felt they were victims of bullying.

“That end of the violence has really escalated,” Losby said. “There’s also the problem with social media. It’s too easy to put someone down on Facebook or through mass texts. You’re not looking at that person as a human being.”

The Monona ordinance adopts state statute language on harassment via computerized devices, thereby giving Monona police the ability to issue municipal citations for cyberbullying.

The ordinance is applicable only in the city of Monona. That means schools in the Monona Grove School District that are located in Cottage Grove are not under the ordinance’s jurisdiction. Losby said he hopes to convince other Dane County municipalities to adopt the ordinance.

In general, the ordinance is designed to give victims of bullying hope that someone will take their concerns seriously, said Monona Mayor Bob Miller.

“Ordinances reflect the values of a community,” he said. “It would be my desire that the bullying ordinance reflects the values of Monona.”

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(15) Comments

  1. Anarchy420
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    Anarchy420 - June 06, 2013 4:38 pm
    The cops are the perpetuators of many of society's problems. The crazy things going on in Turkey? The COPS are the ones attacking peaceful protesters. Occupy Wall Street? The COPS were the ones attacking peaceful people (some of the protesters weren't peaceful, but a good portion were). Rodney King? Yup, the COPS, again.

    Your blind worship of the State's mercenaries shows your authoritarian indoctrination, and people like you are the reason Hitler got away with the Holocaust.
  2. Anarchy420
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    Anarchy420 - June 06, 2013 4:35 pm
    This whole anti-bullying thing is going WAY out of control. Yes, bullying is bad, but there is absolutely no reason for the State to be involved unless there are initiations of aggression being exerted. Furthermore, why should someone else (the parents) who is merely associated with the aggressor (the bully)?
  3. cogit8able
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    cogit8able - June 06, 2013 10:51 am
    Often bullies are children that are from single parent homes where a parent may be working two jobs to make ends meet as it is. I do not think fining a parent like this is constructive. I am sure them pulling a few more overtime shifts is not going to improve their child's behavior.Also the diagnoses of bullying is in the hands of teachers that suspend kids for making toaster pastries into the shape of a gun. I forsee a lot of citations going home for thought crimes.Whatever happened to making them stay in from recess and write I will not bully on the board 100 times? If you punish the parents what consequence is it to the Bully? And it is not biblical. Ezekiel 18:19-21
    New Living Translation (NLT)
    19 “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. 20 The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness. 21 But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die.
  4. Dntwantone
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    Dntwantone - June 06, 2013 10:37 am
    Like most other laws this is more about creating revenue, if the school wanted to do something about it they could. Most parents only get to see their kids for 3 or 4 hours a day after work. You really think this compares to the 8 hours they spend in school? When are people going to stop blaming parents when parents spend all their time at work and barely get to see their child. Bullying is part of human nature it's not the parents fault. Parents can't be there all day with their children this is absurd! And NO, IT'S NoT SOMETHInG THEY LEARN AT HOME! They learn it at school from other children, god it seems like some of you people have completely forgotten your childhood.
  5. Meko
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    Meko - June 04, 2013 8:53 am
    Bullying starts at home. I hope they are proud that children will be beaten for this by their parents for being fined. This is so open for abuse. Seems the school has let this get totally out of hand to the point that the police and courts have to step in. Might think about replacing your failed staff throughout the school system.
  6. nerdturd
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    nerdturd - June 03, 2013 10:13 am
    I am in my 40's and was bullied in High School - most of the time I had no idea why - it had nothing to do with birthday parties, lunches or the popular crowd. I was literally scared to go to school everyday - the name calling, horrible stares and aggressiveness was enough to make me finish my last half of my senior year at another school.
    When I was reading this article, I was shocked to see those individuals involved in making a difference - I really wish this was the case so long ago.....
    Either way, it's nice to see people change.
  7. NADAONE1982
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    NADAONE1982 - June 03, 2013 7:19 am
    One would be hard pressed not to see the association between the apple & the tree were they to watch the parents verbal assaults/ character assassinations at youth sporting events. Bullying is an outgrowth from the home, those embers placed into the progeny by the parents get fanned by the desire to upgrade ones rank within their circle of friends, end of story. Until you deal with the hearts of those at home this cycle will flow, your attempts to mitigate it will only touch a veneer populous. It stinks, true story, but if you go to public school, you will have to declare your boundaries because of the lack of moral/civil treatment by peers, this may even get physical, or you will be walked on and at the least, made a verbal whipping post. And where that stops is anyone's speculation... Words leave scars & drive ppl 2 suicide if it continues, we are on a precipice of a great watershed of such tragedies.
  8. barefoot
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    barefoot - June 02, 2013 10:35 pm
    How much bullying is reported by adults at school, where much of the bullying takes place?

    My impression is that recess at an elementary/middle school is a chillingly accurate portrayal of Lord of the Flies. The "monitors" are low-wage positions often filled by people who are culturally/linguistically unable to recognize bullying, or physically/mentally unable to intervene. Unlike teachers, the monitors have no vested interest beyond getting through the day, and the kids know that.

    I would like to see the school do more, especially at the young age. Grades should be docked, privileges should be revoked, and students should be expelled.
  9. ButSiriuslyFolks
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    ButSiriuslyFolks - June 02, 2013 7:14 pm
    Just a bemused observation on how much easier it is to place blame than it is to take accountability. Not sure if rabbit is speaking from a parent perspective or a teacher perspective, but I can tell you that it sure seems easy to keep blaming teachers and the school system for any kind of perceived bullying that goes on.

    Mind you, I do believe the schools systems have to take accountability for what happens on the ground of the school. Obviously, the parent can't be there to hover over them 24/7. On the other hand, when the school does report bullying and contacts the parent, more often than not that parent comes flying into the office to blame pretty much everyone else and exonerate their kid. Thus, nothing gets fixed.

    I have no problem with this as a parent. It puts the onus on me, as it should, for the bullying that takes place online, in the community, off school grounds (walking back and forth to school, etc.), and if I've been warned repeatedly that my kid is bullying, and I take the "easy route" of blaming everyone else instead of parenting my kid, it hits my pocketbook.

    Let's start doing the same with test scores. If your kid doesn't score "Advanced" or "Proficient" on the WKCE/SBA or get a minimum score on the mandatory ACT, you can't claim them as a deduction on next year's tax return. Changes the whole conversation, doesn't it?
  10. Badgerman42
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    Badgerman42 - June 02, 2013 5:12 pm
    Bravo, Monona! Every municipality should adopt something similar to attempt to curb this horrible practice.
  11. WinnerWinner
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    WinnerWinner - June 02, 2013 12:55 pm
    So you fine the parents of the bully? Where do you think the kid likely learned the behavior?

    There's gonna be some beatings handed down by abusive parents. Guaranteed.
  12. Kiz
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    Kiz - June 02, 2013 11:56 am
    Rabbit, it's interesting that you are so quick to attack the "cops" concerning this issue. Get off your "cop" hating horse for a bit and get back into reality! The police are the ones that far too often have to deal with the problems of society; problems that society cannot or will not take reasonable steps to handle on their own. I could go on, but you are not worth it!
  13. RudyRue
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    RudyRue - June 02, 2013 11:49 am
    Way to go Monona!
  14. rabbit
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    rabbit - June 02, 2013 11:02 am
    I hope the cops and "mandatory reporters" keep in mind that it's not bullying when one kid doesn't want to be friends with another kid. It's not bullying when a kid doesn't want to invite everyone in his class to his birthday party. It's not bullying when the same group sits together at lunch every day and other kids are uncomfortable joining that group.

    There are so many things called bullying when they're not, that the true nature of bullying (the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another person, physically or mentally) gets watered down.
  15. RatKiller
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    RatKiller - June 02, 2013 10:30 am
    It's a lot better than ticketing teachers. I hope they apply the law equally, if you know what I mean.

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