The link between bullying in school and felony crime later in adulthood has become increasingly apparent in recent years, east metro county attorneys and sheriffs said Wednesday at a forum in Stillwater.

“The connection between bullies and crime is a clear one,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. “The most serious bullies are seven times more likely to carry a weapon to school and almost 60 percent of boys who were bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by age 24. Even more alarming is that 40 percent of bullies have three or more criminal convictions by age 24.”

More than 200 people attended the second annual East Metro Crime Prevention Coalition forum, which examined bullying and cyber bullying. Many of the participants were educators who deal with bullying that more and more is done over the Internet.

Long a problem in schools, bullying now has become a universal online problem that requires victims, parents, educators, police and prosecutors to respond, said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. Boys and girls fearful of their safety should call 911. Parents and their children also can arrange civil restraining orders at county courthouses without having to hire attorneys, he said.

“Today’s bullying is a push of a button,” said Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton, describing the ease that bullies distribute ridicule and threats on the Internet.

The sheriff in Ramsey County, Matt Bostrum, said many adults doing prison time suffered physical abuse at home at an early age — and many became bullies themselves. Compared with decades ago, he said, bullying no longer is a “rite of passage” into adulthood but serious behavior that often requires police intervention.

“There’s a belief now that there are practices we can do to interrupt that behavior,” Bostrum said. “When kids report this stuff to police, it’s a big deal.”

About 43 percent of youth report that they’ve been bullied in cyberspace, Backstrom said. He’s also concerned that 75 percent of adults question the severity and significance of bullying.

“We know there are kids out there who are really hurt by it, but they are loath to report it,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput. “As long as we don’t even talk about it, nothing will change, and that’s unacceptable.”