Steamboat City Council tackles e-crimes

City code includes rules about online harassment cases

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— As communication moves online — to Facebook and e-mail, video chats and online games — the harassment that was once the purview of telephones has followed. To bring the municipal code up to date and to give police officers more options in dealing with harassment, the Steamboat Springs City Council has updated the town laws to allow prosecution of e-crimes.

The City Council approved an update to city code Nov. 2 that expands the harassment code from telephone to “any computer, any computer network, or any computer system.”

“I think it’s just something that over time, because so much more of our communication is electronic, it’s something that’s a natural evolution,” Steamboat Springs Police Department Sgt. Rich Brown said.

City code governs the municipal court, and county and district courts use state statutes. Most harassment cases go to county court, where the judge can issue restraining orders and punishments are more severe. The state harassment laws already include communication by computers and computer networks.

For cases where the suspect lives in another area, or minor cases where restraining orders are not required, officers can elect to send the case to municipal court, Brown said, though that is less than 5 percent of the time.

Brown said computer harassment can come at any age, but it’s most common among teenagers.

Advocates Building Peaceful Communities Executive Director Diane Moore agreed and said she’s hearing about computer harassment from people who are in intimate relationships.

“I’m hearing more about it from teens or about teens in terms of the whole kind of cyber bullying and texting, but also now Facebook and those kinds of things,” she said.

As the city acknowledges the possibility of online harassment, it also opens doors for victims to report the crimes, knowing they are being taken seriously.

Steamboat Springs High Sch­­ool Principal Kevin Taul­man said electronic harassment has been addressed at the high school and is a part of the discipline policy.

“Do we see it? Yeah. You see it in any line of work or anywhere. You see it all over society,” Taulman said.

In a case in Missouri, a woman impersonated a youth online and apparently drove a teenage girl to suicide, he said. That’s why the school has talked about the subject with teachers and students.

Part of the problem with online harassment is people seem to find it easier to write a nasty e-mail than to make those comments in person, he said.

“People say things electronically they normally wouldn’t say to a person,” Taulman said. “They wouldn’t have written that to you in a formal letter.”

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