Electronic intimidation now county crime


Shawano County is going after people who use electronic means to harass or threaten others.

The County Board unanimously approved an amendment to its ordinance earlier this week making such bullying tactics a violation of county law. It is already a violation of state law, but by making it a county violation, more revenue from fines will come to the county instead of the state.

Wisconsin Statute 947.0125 classifies harassing or threatening by electronic communication as a Class B misdemeanor. Finance Director Diane Rusch estimated there would be 20 citations annually, bringing in an additional $2,300 in revenue to the county.

The amended ordinance, which addresses issues such as disorderly behavior and lewd conduct, dates back to 1982, before the Internet and electronic communication became a way of life, according to Supervisor Bert Huntington, a member of the Public Safety Committee, which sponsored the amendment.

“There are a lot of problems with it nowadays, and it’s a good thing for us to support this,” Huntington said.

Capt. Tom Tuma of the Sheriff’s Department said the school resource officers and other staff who deal with computer crimes are seeing an increase in the number of complaints from people being harassed or frightened electronically.

Law enforcement currently has two options — contacting the person conducting the activity and warning them not to continue, or issuing a criminal complaint through the district attorney’s office.

“A citation would be quicker, and not automatically permit the appointment of a public defender,” Tuma said.

The electronic harassment is more common with teenagers, according to Tuma, although a fair share of adults are sending intimidating messages and photos.

“This is certainly on the rise in the schools, which worries me a little bit,” Tuma said. “Our kids don’t get a break. They leave school, and in past years, they got a break from someone that might be harassing them. Now they continue through messages.”