GTPD presents on cellphone safety

Officers with the Gloucester Township Police Department discussed cell phone safety with parents at Charles W. Lewis Middle School last week

The Gloucester Township Police Department visited Charles W. Lewis Middle School last Thursday to discuss the dangers of cellphones for students, with help from Gloucester Township Public Schools administration.

The presentation hit on the dangers of multiple topics, such as sexting, cybercrimes, cyber bullying, internet exploitation and more.

Lt. John Stollsteimer with the GTPD helped lead the presentation, saying the department had presented to high school students in the past years. However, Stollsteimer says students told officers they wished such presentations were available when they were younger, leading to the move to get such important information to younger students.

“This is very important,” Stollsteimer said. “We’ve found over several years that there’s a rise in kids sending inappropriate pictures with cellphones and other electronic devices, especially through social media. It’s been rising every single year since we started looking at this issue.”

Stollsteimer says kids as young as fourth or fifth grade have been found to be involved in some type of inappropriate usage of cellphones. For example, when dealing with minors who have inappropriate pictures of other minors on mobile devices, Stollsteimer says kids can still be charged with a third-degree offense in the distribution or manufacturing of child pornography.

“They can be as simple as sending a naked picture to a boyfriend or girlfriend; that would constitute that type of offense,” Stollsteimer said. “That’s something these kids could carry for the rest of their lives with them.”

“We wanted to try to get the word out that they’re responsible for their own actions and will have to answer for something like this,” Stollsteimer added.” So we said we have to get to these kids when it first starts to become an issue.”

The parent presentation last Thursday was created with the help of Gloucester Township Public Schools Superintendent John Bilodeau to reach parents before students and allow parents the ability to opt children out from the presentation when it goes to students in schools.

While sexting was a large reason for the presentation, officers also discussed cyber bullying and other dangers caused by the internet and mobile devices. Thanks to social media and cellphones, bullying can become an around-the-clock fixture in some students’ lives.

“That bullying is consistent 24/7, they can never get a break from it,” Stollsteimer said.

Stollsteimer said there are a few precautions parents can take to make sure their children stay out of trouble. A problem officers run into occasionally is parents not wanting to interfere with their children’s lives.

“We understand that kids need their freedom at some point, cause [we didn’t have social media] growing up, but at the same time you have to monitor what they’re doing,” Stollsteimer said. “Because they don’t know any better, you can bring that to their attention.”

The department also recommends parents familiarize themselves with social media apps, such as Instagram and Twitter, and how to use smartphones effectively to better watch over their children’s activity online.