Police push Internet safety
Date: October 20, 2003
DEARBORN HEIGHTS -- The Wayne County Sheriff's Internet Crime Unit has caught 17 child predators in 10 months, prompting officers to launch a prevention effort in local schools aimed at keeping teens from becoming victims.
One in five U.S. teen-agers who regularly log onto the Internet say they've received unwanted sexual solicitations via the Web, according to officers who visited Dearborn Heights' Annapolis High School. Even some of the school's most computer-savvy teens were shocked by what they learned.
"I think it's stupid to talk to people (online) you don't know. I have friends that talk to strangers online," said Annapolis junior Matt Klucka, who plans to work in law enforcement one day, maybe even on the Internet Crime Unit.
"Maybe this presentation will change people's minds."
Most of the criminals caught by the Internet Crime Unit are sexual predators who stalk children online, many of whom are preteens or younger.
"My main goal is to prevent students from becoming victims," said Deputy Sheriff Dennis Berry of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.
Sheila Eaddy, a special education teacher at Annapolis and a retired corporal with the Sheriff's Department, helped bring the Internet safety presentation to her school.
"At this age, kids can get caught up in chat rooms," she said. "Perhaps kids' antennas will go up because of this talk."
Chat rooms are where most of these Internet crimes begin. Students think they're "chatting" with someone their own age when chat becomes more sexual in nature and pretty soon they're talked into meeting in person.
More often than not, the friend they made on the Internet is a male predator in his mid-30s to 40s. Seventy-seven percent of the targets for online predators were 14 or older, with another 22 percent of users 10-13.
Wayne County Internet Crime Unit officers often pose as young teens to catch predators in the act. But students and parents need to have their own safeguards in place. Blocking and filtering software is always an option, but Berry admitted that as soon as the software comes out, the criminals have figured out ways around it.
"It's hard to keep up. It's overwhelming how much money they put into this," Berry said. "The best thing students can do is be more cautious of chat rooms and to never give out personal information or put a photo online."
The Internet safety program is among several on which the Sheriff's Department and Annapolis High School are working together.
Other programs involve drunk driving, rape and what they call a dose of reality tour -- where they see presentations from jail inmates, as well as from victims of crime or drunk driving.
But in this day and age of technology, with 99 percent of public schools and more than half of the households having computers and Web access, Internet safety is a somewhat new and very prevalent concern.
Allison Meyer, a business and technology teacher at Annapolis, hopes presentations like this one will show students they're not as insulated in cyberspace as they once thought.
"They feel that when they log on, it's their territory and it's not accessible to anyone else," she said. "They've learned that there are people watching them."
Berry's presentation definitely opened 15-year-old's Jackie Boumann's eyes.
"There was a lot of information that I'd never heard of or thought they could do," Boumann said.
Eaddy hopes students take several things away from the Internet safety presentation.
"I want them to be comfortable with the police and sheriff department. They need to know that the police are for you and want you to be informed," Eaddy said. "Kids need to know what they're up against."
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