Haddonfield Police, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office team up for internet safety

Do’s and Don’ts of online habits and social media usage discussed with borough parents

In what’s become an increasingly integral part of Haddonfield’s commitment to community policing efforts, on Jan. 8 at the middle school auditorium, borough police and the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office jointly offered an online awareness and safety presentation geared toward parents.

It was a beefed-up version of a similar presentation given to sixth- through eighth-grade students several weeks prior, but aimed at giving adults the tools and the knowledge necessary to be effective gatekeepers for their children’s online habits. During the hour-plus session, social media usage, the dangers of chat rooms and other social-networking sites, along with cyberbullying and its effects were discussed at length.

Tracy Ann Matozzo, principal of Haddonfield Middle School and mother of a 15-year-old, set the tone for the evening when she said to those in attendance, “You’re not here tonight to be scared straight. The information provided here tonight will help you learn all about a world we did not grow up with, and will help you get acclimated to it.”

Haddonfield Police Chief Jason Cutler presided over the event, the bulk of which was presented by Det. John Cochran and Agent Kaitlin Sell of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office — with additional input from Haddonfield Police Detective Sgt. Danielle Mueller. Cochran and Sell are part of the High Tech Crimes Unit, the United States Secret Service Child Exploitation Task Force and the State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Cochran revealed there were nearly two dozen social networking sites to be aware of, beyond what many consider to be the core of online activity: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat. Kik, OoVoo, MeetMe and NextDoor, among others, should be researched by parents and monitored.

Cochran added most, if not all, social networking has a built-in minimum age of 13, and if a child admits to having signed up for a particular app or has visited one of those networking sites, it would be prudent for parents to find out and have that child disengage from those sites. Cochran and Sell also spoke about certain apps parents can use to monitor their child’s online activity, such as SecureTeen and TeenSafe — which contains a GPS locator — but stopped short of full endorsements.

Resident Kathy Harting, a mother of three young children who was credited by Cutler as spearheading the effort to have these talks with middle schoolers and their parents, revealed why these presentations became a necessity.

“We’re here because my son, when he was in fourth grade, was walking home one day with a bunch of friends, and a kid showed him porn on a cell phone. And my son came home shaken, and I said ‘what happened?’ and he said ‘this kid was just passing it around, showing everybody,’ and I said ‘doesn’t he have any filters on his phone or any kind of restrictions?’ and he said ‘no, most of my friends don’t have restrictions,’ and I was really kind of shocked,” she explained.

Spurred to action, Harting called a friend who suggested meeting with Cutler. She eventually met with him and Mueller in April of last year, and in that conversation, revealed to both that parents aren’t really aware that kids are going on sites they shouldn’t be going on. It was a huge red flag for her to know this might be a regular occurrence for a fourth-grader with certain things that they’re seeing.

Cutler and Mueller agreed having presentations on dangers present in online activity was a good idea. Then, after Mueller got in touch with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, all involved agreed something had to be done.

Harting originally wanted the presentations to start at fourth and fifth grade, to get ahead of the age when online activity begins to spike, but middle school became the starting point.

“I am not (the bad guy) yet, but my son hasn’t even started middle school. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to fight,” added Harting. “I’m the kind of person who wants to talk everything out to everyone I can. I’ve hit a good group of local moms in town where we all are sharing, like we have text exchange because sometimes it will be days before we have an actual conversation, where we talk about what happened in school or town. I’m working and my girl friends are working really hard to open that communication and that community up. It’s a little easier in a small town like this.”

While the presentation was initially targeted for 45 minutes plus an unlimited time for parents to ask questions, it lasted almost twice as long as originally intended. Though the auditorium was not filled to capacity, the event was well attended.

“I thought the turnout was terrific, I thought the questions that parents asked were very appropriate and very well thought out. I thought the presentation from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office was also well done. They talked at a level the parents could understand, and the fact that the meeting was interactive was important so that the Prosecutor’s Office learned some things regarding certain apps they might not have known were out there. As part of our overall community policing efforts, I thought it was a good night,” said Haddonfield Mayor Neal Rochford.

“As a parent, I’m always interested in learning about the technology aspects and the controls that you can put on the technology because, as a parent and adult, I’m not always up on the current applications, and some of the inappropriate things that can come across through social media.”

Mueller, herself a mother of three, wouldn’t commit on a definitive message intended for a presentation to younger students, but said it is on the docket.

“This was a trial run, and we want to see how this was received. What we’re thinking about now is trying to implement it. We’re going to coordinate again with the Prosecutor’s Office and keep it age appropriate, and how can we give them content that they need,” Mueller said.

“Our biggest thing is we want to reach the parents because, as Chief Cutler said at the outset, safety starts at home. If we get them (parents) what they need, it can trickle down to the kids, which in essence, helps us to do our job.”

Mueller anticipates any presentation to younger children wouldn’t occur until the following school year, due to the process in getting approvals. However, she stated it will be something the department looks forward to presenting and the ultimate goal is to have such presentations for parents and students alike, on a yearly basis.

For more information on future online safety presentations, contact Cutler at jcutler@haddonfield-nj.gov.