Police proactive on internet dangers, choking game

MySpace profiles include 48 from Rye Elementary, 89 from Junior High

Jack Driscoll

Prevention has become a major emphasis in modern-day policing.

Case in point is the effort Rye Police Officer Heather Porciello is putting into educating schools, parents, teens and children on the potential dangers presented by the internet and the second most-popular site on the internet, MySpace.com,

Officer Porciello (photo, left) is especially raising a flag on a dangerous fad, known as “the choking game”, most prevalent in the age 9-14 age group.  It has caused the death of 60 children the past year, one in Whitefield, N.H., in February.

MySpace, a social-networking site, had 28.8 billion page views in March, according to the New York Times, not far behind Yahoo, and has 69 million users who post information about themselves and engage in dialogue with others.  MySpace describes itself as:  “an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends.”

In late April, 48 members were listed as being from the Rye Elementary School and 89 from Rye Junior High School.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told the Wall Street Journal, "This site now exposes children to a perilous cyber environment with people posting sexually explicit materials and looking for sexual relationships."  

Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, MySpace has recently hired a security expert because of numerous incidents in which predators have arranged meetings with children.  A major advertising campaign also is being undertaken to promote online safety.

Armed with a PowerPoint presentation, Officer Porciello is telling it like it is. Her message:  (1) There are extreme dangers; (2) Parents need to be on top of their children’s use of the internet, particularly as regards MySpace and similar social-net sites.  She already has met with a a group of 25 Rye parents and school personnel and is willing to sit down with other small groups.  In addition Porciello spends time monitoring MySpace and other sites, again, on the current police theory that prevention trumps reactive measures.

The essence of Officer Porciello's very-direct message in outline form goes like this:


Location of Computer
·    Where is the computer?
·    Can you see what your child is viewing?
·    What is your child’s reaction when you ask about their internet use?
·    Warning signs: defensive behavior, minimizing windows, turning off the monitor

Parental controls:
·    Offered by major online services: AOL, Comcast, Verizon DSL
·    Allows you to pre-determine the types of content your child can view
·    Block explicit material

Virus Software:
·    Will protect your computer from:
·    Pop-ups
·    Spyware
·    Virus infected e-mail and downloads
·    Viruses can be FATAL to your hard drive
·    Norton, McAfee, AOL

Instant Messenger
·    Most commonly used: AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and MSN Messenger
·    AIM is free and does not require AOL
·    Private “chat” between two parties
·    Child can accept and begin speaking with ANYONE that sends an IM
·    Away Messages: feature attached to AIM, allows user to leave information when they are away from the computer
·    Example:
·    “Hey, I’m away from the computer so leave one for when I get back!”
·    Kids will often leave personal information on their away message
·    Example:
      “Hey, I’m at soccer practice until 6:30, so call my cell @ 555-1111!”

Email Access
·    If your child has a personal e-mail account, check it occasionally for inappropriate material
·    Free e-mail accounts are easy to set up and you may not even know your child has one:  yahoo.com and hotmail.com

·    What is myspace.com?
·    What are the issues facing kids using this website?
·    What are the issues for law enforcement?
·    What is the Rye Police Department doing to help?
·    Myspace.com is an website that hosts online profiles
·    Profiles usually consist of personal information (likes, dislikes), correspondence from “friends”, and photographs uploaded by the user
·    People from all walks of life have a Myspace.com profile
·    Rye Junior High Students have profiles
·    There are 616 Myspace.com profiles that are affiliated with Portsmouth High School (alumni, current and future students)
·    The issues:
·    Kids place themselves in an online “menu” for predators
·    A predator can browse profiles as well as get instant access to the child’s “friends”
·    Predators are using Myspace.com because they can maintain anonymity
·    Kids put personal information on their Myspace: phone numbers, physical description, photos, addresses and schools
·    Kids also post information about alcohol and drug use, as well as sexual experience
·    Photos of illegal activity have also been posted by Rye kids
·    Discussion boards will often give information about upcoming parties or parties from the previous weekend
·    Issues for law enforcement:
·    1) Predators
·    2) Illegal activity
·    3) Anonymity
·    What is the Rye Police doing to help?
·    1) Monitoring Rye kids Myspace.com profiles
·    2) Calling parents when inappropriate, dangerous or illegal postings are found
·    3) Educating kids on the dangers of posting personal information on the web
·    4) Following up on suspected criminal activity
·    Steps:
·    1) Go to www.myspace.com
·    From opening page, click on the orange box labeled “Sign Up!”
·    You will be redirected to “Join Myspace here”
·    Type in information and submit to get started
·    Once signed up, you can go to “search” located at the top of the screen.
·    Narrow your search using the “zip code” feature
·    Your child will not know you are viewing their profile
·    Under the age of 16, the Myspace.com profiles are automatically set to private
·    If your child is under 16, he or she can make up an older age so that anyone can view his or her profile
·    Remove personal information and photographs                                

Alternative web profiles:
·    Facebook.com
·    Friendster.com
·    Also, check AOL profiles


What is it?

The game is played when one child compresses another child’s chest or squeezes their neck to cut off the flow of oxygen to the brain.  The result is a feeling of light-headedness that kids perceive to be a “high”.

Once the pressure is released, a “rush” is felt when blood returns to the brain and the child can breathe again.
Who is doing it?
·    Ages 9-14, most common in Junior High
·    A Portion of EVERY Rye Junior High School class has said they know someone who has tried this game!
·    This is NOT limited to “at risk” kids
·    Why? This is attempted out of curiousity at first because it seems harmless, but kids can get addicted to feeling the “high”.

How is it done alone?
·    1) Using a ligature (belts, ropes) or a plastic bag
·    2) When the flow of blood and oxygen is cut off, kids can accidentally pass out without being able to loosen the noose
·    Risk for brain damage and death
·    Usually thought to be a suicide at first
·    Deaths related to the game:
·    2 in New Hampshire since 2001, most recent on February 24 in Whitefield (14 y.o. boy)
·    60 nationwide since 2005
Warning Signs: how to tell if you child is trying this
·    Complaints of severe headaches
·    Marks on the neck
·    Bloodshot eyes
·    Raspy Breath
·    Tools of the game (ex: ropes/belt/ties)

What Parents can do?
·    Talk to your children about the dangers-emphasize that death can occur on the first attempt
·    Get them help if you believe they are doing this-they may not always admit it!  
·    Monitor your children at home
·    Please feel free to call us with tips, questions or concerns!
·    At the Police Department: 37 Central Road
·    By Phone:
·    Business/Non-Emergency Line: 964-5522
·    Emergencies: 911 or 964-5521

May, 2006