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California city aims to fight bullying by criminalizing it

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A southern California city aims to fight back at bullies by making it a crime to pick on others, in a measure that would protect not only school children but anyone up to age 25 who is targeted for harassment.

City leaders in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles, are poised to become among the first municipalities in the nation to make bullying a crime by treating it as an infraction or a misdemeanor, which are offenses less serious than a felony.

Carson Mayor Jim Dear said he expects the measure could be challenged in court but said he supports it.

"We're not talking about putting a 5-year-old in jail, we're talking about intervening in both the bully's life, who is a person who is hurting too, and the victim's life," Dear said.

The Carson city council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to move forward with the anti-bullying ordinance, which needs to come back for a final vote on May 20. The text of the measure says it is modeled on a similar ordinance in Monona, Wisconsin.

Carson, a city of about 93,000 residents, contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for policing, and the measure would call on sheriff's deputies to enforce the ordinance. The measure defines bullying as "a willful course of conduct which involves harassment of a person(s) from kindergarten through age 25."

The measure covers physical and verbal actions, as well as so-called cyberbullying.

It would require the parent of a suspected bully to attend a juvenile court hearing and hold parents partly responsible for actions of their children, Dear said.

Time in custody would not always be administered to children and young adults found to have committed bullying, and counseling and therapy would be part of the solution, he said.

But Brendan Hamme, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the measure is too vague and does not even spell out how much jail time an offender could potentially face, although in California a misdemeanor crime can carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of New York-based Stomp Out Bullying, said the measure appears to go too far.

"Do you want someone to go to jail if they're calling someone a name?" Ellis said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ken Wills)

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