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mSpy interview with an Online Police Sergeant

mSpy interview with an Online Police Sergeant

Online safety for children has been a major concern for mSpy, your #1 parental control app. It is our goal to educate parents on online safety issues to reduce the risk their kids are exposed to while being online. We had been honored to interview an Internet police sergeant Steve Shepherd also known as ‘Online Safety Cop’ from Devon and Cornwall Police and UK Safer Internet Centre on his view on online safety.


Please share how did you become an online safety cop?

Online Safety Sergeant:

I have been a Devon and Cornwall Police Officer for over 20 years but had a background in Information Technology and have always been interested in the subject. When Facebook and Twitter became popular, I quickly realized that it was an amazing opportunity to show people the true face of police work.

Until then our primary form of communication was through the traditional press and our own internal press office. Social media presented the opportunity to tell people what myself and my team were doing in real time. So I created both a Twitter account and Facebook page and they quickly became very popular. On social media, I quickly became known as the ‘Online Safety Cop.’

I was so fascinated with the new technology that I started an Open University course in Digital Technology, and it was at this point that my tutor introduced me the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC). At that time I had no idea that part of the UKSIC was actually based in Devon where I worked.

I met the team on a couple of occasions and was amazed at the national and international work that they did in regards to online safety. They operate a helpline for anyone who works with children and young people around digital issues. It quickly became apparent that criminal content appeared as part of this work and the helpline wanted a law enforcement link to assist them.

We formed a partnership between Devon and Cornwall Police and the UKSIC, and for over two years now, I have been part of a fantastic team.


What are your perceptions of online safety for kids?

Online Safety Sergeant:

It is such a complicated digital world for children (and adults) to navigate. Things change and move at such a pace with new technologies, apps, games and all sorts of new exciting things emerging all the time. It can be tough to keep up to date with what is happening and changing. You only have to peek at some of the most popular social media platforms, Facebook being an example, looks nothing like it did when it was first released and continues to evolve all the time.

I think we are yet to see the long-term effect that social media and digital presence will have on future generations. I still find it amazing that 40% of unborn children already have some form of digital presence online.

For our children there is no longer the online/offline world, it is just the world. For them being online in all its forms is normal. Being able to access the Internet is no longer optional but is a utility just like water, gas and electricity.

The online world is no more or less dangerous than the real world. As we have now shown for our children, it is just ‘the world.’ We must now empower our children to embrace this technology and not be scared of it while giving them the knowledge to identify and reduce risk online.

Children love to explore. Risk taking is part of growing up, and we have to acknowledge this. We don’t stop children crossing roads, or riding bikes or swimming because they are dangerous. We help and guide them to minimize the risks of undertaking those activities and teach them how to be safe.

We have to do the same for them in the online world.


Having worked as online safety cop for a while, what are the biggest online dangers kids are exposed to in this digital age?

Online Safety Sergeant:

The biggest danger for me is not empowering and educating our children to use the online world safely. Far too often, I see parents give children a connected device and then just leave them to it. Would you ever leave a small child by a fast road and expect them to teach themselves to cross it safely? No, of course, you wouldn’t, and yet lots of children are given connected devices and expected to navigate and learn all by themselves. Is it any wonder when they get into trouble?


Of all the dangers you mentioned which one is the most dangerous for kids and why?

Online Safety Sergeant:

I think we can easily fall into the trap of trying to identify ‘the danger’ that children are exposed to online. We live in a media-driven culture with shocking headlines around this game or this social media platform. In reality, the Internet is neither good nor bad, in the same way, electricity is neither good nor bad. Wire up a plug correctly, and it can fill your life with music, heat, light and hundreds of other ways to enhance day-to-day living. However, if you don’t understand electricity, you could burn down your house or electrocute yourself.

The Internet is no different and especially for our children.


In your opinion, how has the Internet changed parenting?

Online Safety Sergeant:

No one said that parenting was easy! Throw into the mix technology, and for many parents, it can seem a bewildering place where their children know more than them. It can also appear to be an easy option to give a child a connected device just so that parents can get on with other things without the kids getting in the way.

Parents often become far too fixated on the technology itself rather than the way it is used. You don’t need, as a parent, to know everything about that a game, an app, or website. You can still guide your child using it safely and responsibly because it’s the behaviour that parents influence, not the technology.


Were you bullied growing up? If yes, how did you overcome it?

Online Safety Sergeant:

I was very lucky when I was growing up that I had a great circle of friends. Do not get me wrong we had fallings out as all friends do, but we were always there for each other. I remember on one occasion being bullied by an older child. I can remember not wanting to go to school and worrying at night, not sleeping and not being able to eat.

On a couple of mornings, the bully was waiting for me at the school gates, threatened me and even physically hit me on one occasion. During this time I felt so alone. In the end, I told my best friend. The next morning as I approached the school gate not only was my best friend stood beside me but also about 5 or 6 other of my buddies.

My best friend made it quite clear that he and my other friends were there to support me and look after me and that they would do so every day. That was the last time the bully picked on me.

Of course, now with technology bullies don’t just have to wait by the school gates. Depending on what your children are connected to, they can connect with and contact people 24/7.

However, the advice is just the same. Don’t suffer on your own. Tell someone you trust; there is help out there. In fact, it’s not just friends, but also a whole host of people, organizations and charities that can really help. The first step you have to take though is to tell someone you trust. Technology or no technology that has not changed.


Given all these online dangers, do you think parents need help with parental control apps?

Online Safety Sergeant:

Technology has a significant part to play in online safety. The ability to monitor and filter is a vital part of the online safety puzzle. The negatives are of course that parents think it is the magic bullet and don’t need to do anything else to keep their children safe.

The best online safety solutions are when we blend everything together; parental control apps, education, monitoring and filtering, and the ability to instill positive behaviors in the children that use technology.

According to the Online Safety Cop, kids now see a world that is neither offline or online because everything around them is all about the Internet.

It is parent’s responsibility to educate their children and he could not have said it better than his last statement ‘we blend everything together; parental control apps, education, monitoring and filtering, and the ability to instill positive behaviors in the children that use technology.’


About Steve Shepherd

Steve Shepherd is known as “Online Safety Cop”. He works with Devon and Cornwall Police and UK Safer Internet Centre. He has been a cop for over 20 years and has a background in Digital Technology.

You can follow him on Twitter: @SgtSheps

For more Info about him visit these websites:

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