Damned Police

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. The man then drives along a footpath brutally mowing people down and killing several pedestrians. The police are heavily criticised for not doing anything to stop him earlier.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by successfully shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The car however does not immediately stop – it veers out of control, onto a footpath and kills a pedestrian. Police are heavily criticised for shooting at the car in a public place because it doesn’t actually make a car stop completely.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The police officer misses because this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. One of the stray bullets ricochets and hits a pedestrian, killing her. Police are heavily criticised for shooting in a public place.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer shoots the man at the wheel, killing him. Police are heavily criticised for over-reacting because his family says he was not a bad man, he was just going through a bad patch and didn’t deserve to die. People ask why the officer didn’t just incapacitate him by shooting him in the shoulder.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to tackle the driver through the open window. The police officer is thrown off balance, falls under the wheels of the car and is killed. The man then drives off, hitting several pedestrians. Although the officer himself is hailed as a hero, the police are heavily criticised for lack of training and that nothing further was done to try to stop the man.

Real life is not like a movie. Just because Bruce Willis could do it in ‘Die Hard’ doesn’t mean it can happen in the street. As a police officer, you are thrust into a situation and you have to think on your feet. You use your human skills and best judgement on what you know at that precise moment.

Maybe you know the person you are up against. Maybe you know he is violent and unpredictable, and has been threatening to kill. Or maybe you only know what you can see. An angry man in a car. But you do know that you will be held accountable for every decision you make.

As a police officer, you rely on your training. You have the voices of your superiors ringing in your ears to show restraint and caution. You also hear the voice of your own conscience. Is this justified? Can I live with the consequences of my actions, whatever I choose? Can I forsee all the possible consequences?

No one knows the ‘right’ answer at the time. The ‘right’ answer only appears afterwards with hindsight.

As a police officer, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

J.M. Peace is a serving police officer and the author of ‘A Time To Run’ and ‘The Twisted Knot’.

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Kids and social media

First published on Mamamia 31/1/2016

img_6848My son recently came home from school asking to have a look at Instagram. He told me one of his classmates had said he’d put my son’s photo up and he wanted to know if it was true. Neither of us have an account but it’s easy to create one and we quickly found the photo. It appeared innocuous. My son and two of his friends, smiling for the camera, taken after school.

BUT – the account was set to ‘public’ meaning anyone can see the pictures. Over a thousand people were following the account. My son was wearing his school uniform. With the logo visible and readable. One of the other boys in the photo had no shirt on at all. I was alarmed. Because – and here’s the unfathomable part – my son is eight years old. The owner of the public Instagram account is seven.

I was flabbergasted. Outraged. Upset. But mostly baffled.

Surely this boy’s mother either did not realise her son’s account was public? Or she did not understand the inherent risks in letting a young boy have unregulated social media accounts? As a police officer, I have seen first-hand how gullibility and inexperience can lead much older and wiser people into the dark and twisty depths of the world-wide-web.

I spoke to some of my colleagues at the police station about it and we agreed this was a matter of education. I grabbed a brochure on cyber safety and approached the boy’s mother at the school gate that afternoon. The conversation I had with her left me more baffled than I began with.

Yes, of course she knew the boy’s account was public. She set it to private, but he changed it back to public. She said it as if that was the end of that. There’s nothing you can do about your seven year old’s social media settings? Really?

Yes, she knew he had over a thousand followers. They’re all just other kids of course, she told me. Are you kidding me? Are you naïve or optimistic?

Yes, he had his own phone, data and social media accounts but she regulated it all. The photo of my son and friends had been on the account for several weeks. So you think it’s okay to post photos of other people’s topless seven year olds to public accounts? How good is your regulation?

No, she didn’t need the brochure on cyber safety, she knew all about that. If you understood cyber safety, would we be having this conversation? Do you think I’m doing this for laughs?

I didn’t say all those things to her. It was all very polite, but I walked away from it shaking my head in bewilderment.

I told the school, but knew already there was little they could do. The photo was taken outside of school hours. The boy always kept his phone in his schoolbag until after school was finished.

The whole thing led to some interesting conversations in our household – conversations I didn’t think I’d need to have for years. My kids will only be allowed to have phones and (regulated) social media accounts once they are in high school. But I’ve found out the hard way that this does not mean they may not already be affected by the issues surrounding social media.

To make things crystal clear – paedophiles use these social media sites. We know this. Police find the images along with child pornography. They use places like Instagram to ‘collect’ photos, groom children, blackmail children or in the worst case scenario, track children. They sell or trade photos of children. They attempt to engage with children – it may start with complimentary comments on photos and lead to private messages and beyond. Occasionally, they may become obsessed with a child. Depending on what information they can glean from the account, they may have the child’s name, names of family members, the school they attend, the area they live in and sports teams they play on. They can hang out in a public place, watch for the child they already have pictures of and call out the child’s name to try to lure them. This is an extreme scenario that almost never happens. But the fact that it could happen, that all this information is accessible by creepy strangers should be enough to give a parent goosebumps. Especially when the child is too young to even understand there is something they need to protect themselves from.

Parents must educate themselves before allowing their children to have social media access. If they rely on what their child is telling them, or their own best guess, they are leaving their children exposed.

Fortunately, the same internet that can pose the dangers, can also offer valuable advice. The e-version of the cyber safety brochure I gave the other mother is available on the Queensland Police website at https://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/cscp/personalSafety/children/childProtection/.

There is also loads of useful information at www.cybersmart.gov.au.

img_6848Educate yourself. Educate your children. Don’t pretend the predators aren’t lurking out there.