Keeping kids safe online

St. Charles County Police Department and Fort Zumwalt School District are partnering to host a free community cyber safety summit

By Brett Auten

The goal is to get families talking.

The St. Charles County Police Department, in partnership with Fort Zumwalt School District, will host a free community cyber safety summit for youths and parents from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Fort Zumwalt North High School Auditorium, 1230 Tom Ginnever Ave, in O’Fallon.

The objective of the summit is to empower parents and students ages 12-and-older by informing them about safe practices on the internet. Using expert presentations, breakout sessions and interactive workshops, presenters hope attendees leave better equipped to discuss boundaries and ready to utilize safety resources and tools in their daily lives.

The summit was the brainchild of the two organization public relations directors, Val Joyner, with the SCCPD, and Zumwalt North’s Laura Wagner. The two entities had a successful summit last year on the subject of opioid awareness where 400 people filled the school’s auditorium.

“That was a great evening, and we realized that these awareness events are something that we want to do annually,” Zumwalt North Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Moore said.  “At the end of the day, and I am out at the food trucks that we will have there, and I hear families having conversations about what went on in the sessions, that’s our win.”

Moore also noted that the social, emotional connection children have with their devices is a far cry from years ago.

“It is so different from 10-15 years ago when you would hold over your child, ‘I’m going to take your bike away, or I’m going to take your video game away,’” he said. “The experts that we will have on hand will not only explain the why but also let you know that there is hope here too.”

For the students, partnering with SCCPD is not all about scare tactics either. At the summit, experts will guide attendees through real-life cases to illustrate the investigative work that goes into combating life-changing cybercrimes.

“We are not doing this to show them, ‘we can get you,’” Moore added. “It’ more of an opportunity to show that they have seen the kids go through the legal system. Student safety is the top priority for Fort Zumwalt, and keeping them safe extends beyond the school day.”

According to a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 95-percent of teens ages 12-to-17 are online. If subjected to online threats (e.g., cyberbullying, inappropriate content, unsolicited contact, and online sexual predators), vulnerability, curiosity, and the need for acceptance could potentially exploit youth into victimization.

The proliferation of such threats and cybercrime investigations by law enforcement prompted organizers to create the community-wide summit to bring awareness of the risks and responsibilities associated with online activity and behavior.

“The summit offers an opportunity for parents, students, and administrators to come together and find an appropriate balance with social media and internet usage,” Lieutenant Mark O’Neill, supervisor for the St. Charles County Cyber Crime Task Force and Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said. “The event is presented at no cost because the information is too important to be missed.”

O’Neill added that the summit is more of a modern approach to tackle the issue.

“It is a more contemporary approach to bringing about more awareness,” he said. “I hope the parents and kids talk openly and agree to a safe approach when it comes to electronics and social media. We also hope to educate on the use and misuse on social media and how to interact with each other. From a legal standpoint, it is a careful balance between what is an actual crime and what is freedom of speech. All of those avenues will be explored.”

Managed by the SCCPD, MO ICAC’s primary function is the investigation and forensics of cybercrimes related to child pornography, child exploitation, and child sex. In 2017, the unit received more than 3,100 cyber tips.

Sessions, some which will be divided into parents-only and student-only for the Cyber Safety Summit include:

General sessions, Meghan Meier Foundation and Julie Smith of Webster University
True Crime St. Charles County Case Study, MO ICAC
More than In-School Suspension, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
The Internet: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Dr. Jerry Cox
Apps, Lingo and Parental Controls, St. Charles County Cyber Crime Task Force and MO ICAC

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy Fort. Zumwalt School District Empowering parents and students ages 12-and-older by informing them about safe practices on the internet is the goal of the free community cyber safety summit hosted by the St. Charles County Police Department, in partnership with Fort Zumwalt School District.