KDSS police officer wants Facebook access to fight cyber-crime

Section: 
News

By Kristen Shane

Kincardine and District Secondary School’s in-school police officer hopes to add a new weapon to his crime-fighting arsenal, and it’s not a fancy gun or baton.

Constable Glen Fields wants access to Internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Fields can walk the halls of KDSS, but he’s currently shut out of students’ online communities on his office computer.

That’s a problem, he says, because “Facebook is really where a lot of the problems start.”

Just the day before sitting down for an interview with The Independent last month he says he dealt with two students whose dispute heated up through messages on the social networking site and boiled over onto school grounds.

Cyber-bullying has become a concern for the school’s teaching staff, says vice-principal Sheryl Elliott.

“On the weekend, kids will message either through (cell phone) texting or on the Internet. They’ll (write) nasty comments and it often ends that it all plays out on Monday,” she says.

And it’s not just cyber-bullying teachers have to worry about.

Now that more tech-savvy teens own gadgets they can bring to class, Elliott says there are issues that didn’t exist before. They include taking photos using cell phone cameras in gym class, cheating on tests via text-messaging, or disrupting classes with loud, annoying cell phone ring tones.

“We really need the officers’ assistance in educating students and parents about using the technology safely and respectfully,” says Elliott.

She says the school community council had a good turnout last year when it sponsored a speaker to talk to parents, teachers and students about responsible Facebook use.

Nevertheless, principal Deb Kaufman says she thinks students generally don’t truly understand the seriousness of spouting their thoughts over the Internet.

“Once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can’t retract that,” she says

Threatening comments recorded on the Internet could even end up as court evidence, says Fields.

“Comments could be construed as harassment or intimidation. Depending on the severity of the comments made, police can lay charges,” he says.

That’s why Fields wants access to Facebook and other Internet sites. He says they’re important tools to help investigate crimes that spill into the classroom, where he gets involved.

Most Ontario Provincial Police officers work on an internal Internet server that blocks access to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. It’s partly so that police can be seen as maintaining professional standards, says South Bruce OPP spokesperson Kevin Martin.

Nevertheless, officers can apply to their bosses to access these sites if they think it will help them with their jobs.

“It’s a case-by-case thing,” says Martin. He applied last year when he was doing Fields’ in-school job, but received no response until he was almost finished the post.

Now, Fields is also hoping he can get access.

A couple years ago, news reports spotlighted OPP officers near Tillsonburg who used Facebook to get the scoop on a massive upcoming bush party where they suspected underage drinking could happen.

In that case, officers used their own private computers to investigate.

Fields doesn’t want to have to do that.

But how do students feel about an officer clicking onto their profile?

Privacy is important, but Grade 12 students Hilary Holmes and Andrea Jackson have said they’re not too concerned.

“I’d rather the police (look) at my profile than some pedophile,” says Jackson, frankly.

“If you don’t have anything to hide then why would it affect you?” says Holmes, whose father used to be a police inspector in the Kincardine area.

In any case, if Fields is allowed access, he says he’s not interested in regularly monitoring students’ online lives. He just wants to use the sites to respond to specific allegations of crime.

And he has a warning to students so he doesn’t ever have to pore over their profile: “Be aware of what comments you put on Facebook. Be very cautious.”


All police departments should

All police departments should block Facebook servers and other such sites. I wouldn't wanna be protected by the guy that has a picture with him drunk at a party.
____________
Lilia Gephardt | VPS server

This is a good initiative!

This is a good initiative!