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Law enforcement perceptions of cyberbullying: evolving perspectives

Justin W. Patchin (Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire , Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA )
Joseph Schafer (School of Social Work, Saint Louis University , St Louis, Missouri, USA )
John P. Jarvis (Training Division, FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia, USA )

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 10 February 2020

Issue publication date: 6 April 2020




Cyberbullying – using technology to intentionally and repeatedly engage in bullying behaviors – has gained considerable public attention over the last decade. Parents and educators regularly instruct students about appropriate online behaviors and threaten consequences for misbehaviors. The role and responsibility of law enforcement officers in preventing and responding to cyberbullying incidents remains uncertain. While clear violations of the law (e.g. threats of physical harm) most directly implicate the police, other – more common behaviors – such as rumor spreading or hurtful online commenting do not. The paper aims to discuss this issue.


The current study surveyed 1,596 law enforcement supervisors attending the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy (NA) program. The survey instrument assessed perceptions of law enforcement responsibility in cyberbullying incidents. Data were collected in three waves over a nine-year period, allowing the measurement of attitudinal changes over time.


The authors find that certain officer characteristics are associated with a greater interest in responding to different types of cyberbullying (including having children at home and having previous experience dealing with cyberbullying) and that these perceptions have evolved over time.

Research limitations/implications

The data are specific to law enforcement leaders who participated in the NA and are therefore not generalizable to all officers. Nevertheless, implications for explaining variance and law enforcement involvement in cyberbullying incidents are discussed.


This is the first study to survey law enforcement leaders over time to assess their evolving perceptions of law enforcement’s role in addressing cyberbullying among youth.



Patchin, J.W., Schafer, J. and Jarvis, J.P. (2020), "Law enforcement perceptions of cyberbullying: evolving perspectives", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 43 No. 1, pp. 137-150.



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