• Center for Problem oriented policing

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Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of bullying in schools. You must combine this general information with a more specific understanding of your school's problem. Analyzing a school's problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy. Police who work with schools may even find that many of the thefts, assaults and batteries, hate crimes, and threats on school campuses (elementary, middle and high school level) are symptoms of bullying and are perpetrated by a small percentage of chronic tormentors.

Asking the Right Questions†

† The problem of bullying requires extensive surveying of those affected. It is recommended that police link with local colleges, universities or researchers to prepare and pretest survey instruments. Internationally valid questionnaires, adapted from Olweus' questionnaires, are available to survey students, classroom teachers and other staff involved in managing bullying problems. These have been used as part of a comparative project in Japan, Norway, England, the Netherlands, and the state of Washington, and require written permission for use from Dan Olweus (Research Center for Health Promotion, Christies Gate 13, N-5015, Bergen, Norway). The value of using these questionnaires is the ability to make comparisons among a wide range of other sites. If you use anonymous written surveys of students, it is important to develop some other means for gathering information from students on the specific identities of chronic victims and chronic bullies. Once gathered, compare this information with that in school records and with teachers' observations to see if there is some agreement. For additional information on bullying surveys, also see the European Commission's TMR Network Project on bullying, involving collaboration among five European countries.

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of bullying in schools, even if the answers are not always readily available. The answers to these and other questions will help you guide the school in choosing the most appropriate set of responses later on.

The School

  • Does the school believe it has a problem with bullying?
  • Is the school aware of the long-term harms associated with bullying and chronic victimization?
  • Is the school aware of the different types of behavior that constitute bullying?
  • Does the school know how often bullying occurs on the campus each year?
  • How does the school's level of bullying compare with that of other schools that have examined bullying?
  • Does the school have a policy to guide teachers and other staff in handling incidents of bullying?
  • How does the school identify bullies? Are records kept? Are they adequate? Are school counselors in the loop?
  • What insights do teachers have about bullying? Can they identify some of the chronic victims and bullies?
  • How are others (e.g., parents, police) brought into the loop, and at what point?
  • Given that most bullying occurs in areas where there are no teachers, is the current method for identifying bullies adequate?


  • Where do bullies operate at the school?
  • What are the consequences for bullying at the school? Are they applied consistently?
  • Does the bullying stop? How is this determined?

Victims and Victimization

  • Does the school know all the victims of bullying?
  • How does the school identify victims? Given that most victims and witnesses do not report, is the current system for identifying victims adequate? Who are the chronic victims? What has the school done to protect them?
  • What are the most common forms of bullying victimization? Does the school policy address them?
  • Does the school have a policy regarding the reporting of bullying and the role of bystanders?

Locations Where Bullying Occurs

  • Where does bullying most often occur? Do data support this?
  • When does bullying occur at those locations?
  • Are those who supervise the locations during those times trained to identify and appropriately handle bullying incidents?
  • Has the school made changes to the locations to minimize bullying opportunities?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

You should encourage the school to measure its bullying problem before implementing responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after implementing them, to determine whether they have been effective. Measurement allows school staff to determine to what degree their efforts have succeeded, and suggests how they might modify their responses if they are not producing the intended results. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems. The following potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to bullying should be taken using before-and-after surveys:

  • Percentage of victims, by type of bullying
  • Number of repeat victims
  • Number of chronic bullies
  • Frequency of victimization (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly)
  • Percentage of bullying incidents reported to parents or authorities
  • Number of students who are knowledgeable about bullying and how they should respond
  • Percentage of students who witness bullying who report it to teachers or parents
  • Willingness of students to step in and help someone being bullied
  • Attendance, tardiness, behavior, and disciplinary reports of chronic victims and bullies
  • Bullying rates at specific bullying hot spots (e.g., bathrooms, cafeteria, schoolyard).
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