FISHERS, Ind. — The Fishers Police chief is inviting the public for a virtual conversation.
Chief Ed Gebhart started “Chat with Chief” during the pandemic because he said he felt the department didn’t get to communicate with the public as much as he would have liked.
“I try to figure out what people want to know about, what they’re curious about,” he told CBS4.
The chief’s first topic was about active shooters.
The next topic, set for February 23rd, is titled “Internet Safety and Parenting in a Digital Age.” It will be an opportunity for parents to ask questions, learn about tools they can use to protect their children and share concerns they have when it comes to child predators online.
The discussion comes four months after a CBS4 Consumer Investigation showed more and more parents are shifting away from “sharenting” – oversharing on social media – and instead, not posting photos of their kids online at all.
“I thought about this when I saw your piece. I watched it. I think it would be really, really hard in this day and age to avoid it,” the chief said.
Chief Gebhart said that because even though parents may not post photos of their young children online, schools and organizations are now sharing pictures in any way they can. As youths get older, they and their friends are sharing images and videos with each other and online, too.
“I don’t know that you’re going to avoid your kids being out there,” he cautioned.
Instead, he urged parents to restrict their privacy settings.
“Who are you talking to? What are you talking to? Who can access where they’re at?”
Chief Gebhart confirmed the Hamilton County Child Exploitation Task Force investigated more than 250 reports of child exploitation in 2021. A bulk of those, he said, were people trying to access youth via Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other social media.
“They just send out masses of ways to communicate in any way they possibly can, whether it’s TikTok, whether it’s Instagram, whether it’s Facebook and whatever our youth will engage them on, that’s the highway in,” he warned.
New numbers from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show reports of child sex abuse material online were up 35 percent in 2021, compared to the year prior. According to the local organization “kNot Today,” that means law enforcement investigated almost 30 million images of children online. Some of those were in Indiana.
“Last year alone, up through October, over 6,000 cyber tips had hit Indiana alone. Thousands of them are fed then to our local law enforcement for them to investigate further,” Alyssa Van Vactor, kNot Today’s executive director, told CBS4.
Van Vactor said the organization, which was started by Colts head coach Frank Reich and his wife Linda, is working to educate parents about child exploitation and what they can do to protect their families online.
“Making sure parents understand that any image they post, whether it’s a bathtub or potty training, a beach swimsuit, any of that could be used by exploiters online that are taking these images,” Van Vactor said.
“It’s happening to younger and younger generations and with children having more and more access to social media and games and technology. They are being exploited in images that are being shared with them with their friends and through gaming sites and social media the parents aren’t aware of. So, we do need to be ready to have open conversations with our children at young ages.”
Van Vactor pointed to several safety features on cell phones that she said parents should be using to monitor which websites their kids are using. She said there are also apps to restrict which contents are being sent and received on a particular device.
If parents would like to learn more about those, ask questions about how to keep youth safe online and share their concerns, they can register for the February 23rd “Chat with the Chief” and submit questions beforehand online. The session will begin at 8 p.m.