Police unit launches cyber safety initiative

By LISA BOWERS
Journal Ishpeming Bureau
ISHPEMING — Staying safe online was the subject of four separate cyber-safety presentations made to fifth- through 12th-grade students and their parents in the Ishpeming school district recently.
The programs — held at Peterson Auditorium last week — were the first of any such program held locally for students.
Each one-hour segment presented by Andie Johnston, a member of the Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for the State Police Computer Crimes Unit, had content geared toward a specific age group.
Parents, for example, were asked not to bring their children to an evening presentation.
“We want to talk to them about using the apps available to monitor their kids and starting young,” Johnston said. “Starting with an 11th-grade kid and saying ‘I want your phone’ when you have never asked for it before — that would be a foreign to them.”
Johnston has attended other presentations with high school students that highlight teenagers’ reluctance to surrender their smartphone to an adult.
“My team lead has walked up and said ‘hand me your phone.’ The first thing they do is pull it back, even though she is a detective sergeant and we are having this conversation,” Johnston said. “They go ‘hey, can I see your phone?’ And they won’t because they know there is stuff on it that they don’t want an adult to see.”
During the middle school presentation on Wednesday, over half of the students in attendance raised their hands when Johnston asked how many of them had a smartphone.
The result of Johnston’s query on Wednesday bears out national studies on the matter, which indicate the median age for a child to get his or her smartphone is just over 10 years old.
Johnston said it was important to keep the content of each of the four presentations age appropriate, with one tailored specifically for high school age students, one for seventh- and eighth-graders and one for fifth- and sixth-graders.
“What I don’t touch on with the younger kids, with the high school students I did,” Johnston said.
Johnston told the attendees that much of the activity people engage in on a smartphone, as well as research for school, touches the internet in some way.
“We want you to be safe when you are on the internet, and we want you to take some safety precautions,” Johnston told the students. “Just like you would look both ways when you are crossing the street and you don’t run out in traffic, we don’t want you running out in traffic on the internet.”
Johnston said the students should avoid posting mean messages or inappropriate pictures, talking to people they don’t know and visiting adult websites.
“Talking to people you don’t know is always something that you should keep in the back of your mind,” Johnston said. “It’s important that you never add anybody to your friend list on any of your apps unless you have met that person face-to-face and you know that they exist and you know that they are who they say they are.”
Johnston said privacy is also important to cyber safety.
Privacy rules include:
• Don’t share personal information
• Make sure you are only sharing things with your friends on your apps
• Choose appropriate screen names, not ones that are going to draw attention to yourself.
• Only accept friends you know in real life.
• Don’t make jokes that are threats.
Johnston said one of the most powerful tools to avoid problems on the internet is the word “no.”
“You have the right to say ‘no’ to inappropriate requests,” Johnston said. “If somebody asks you to do something and you are not comfortable with it, or you know your parents may not be comfortable with it, or you just think it might not be a good idea.”
Ishpeming Police Chief Steve Snowaert said it is important to give parents and children the means to be safe on the internet.
“You could tell by some of the questions that we’ve had that some people don’t realize the long-term effects. They don’t think that it’s going to happen to them. But it could, and it has. It’s very beneficial that we get the word out,” Snowaert said. “And we don’t just do it once, we will bring them back again. And we talk to the schools and when they have issues, they know that they can call me, and get ahold of the crime lab if we need help.”
Johnston said the goal is to protect the child from hazards that older generations did not have to contend with, and are difficult for parents to monitor.
“I always used to laugh when our parents used to say ‘I walked uphill both ways to school’ — meaning that our childhood was tougher than yours,” Johnston said. “But I hands down think that their childhood was tougher than mine. Because mine was so controlled because we didn’t have — we could’t call 15 miles away without it being long distance. And here, they can call people all around the world and you never know.”
Johnston said people should report what they believe to be illegal internet activity to their local police department or the local Michigan State police post.
Parents who have questions about applications, or how to monitor content on a child’s phone can call the Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Headquarters in Marquette at (906) 225-7030 or the Michigan State Police Cyber Command Center at 1-877-642-9237.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.