More than 100 people joined local school districts for the first ever Crawford County Safety Summit.
Four speakers touched on various topics affecting communities in western Pennsylvania and beyond: human trafficking, social media and internet usage, drug addiction and active shooter training.
The summit, held Thursday at the Meadville Area Senior High School auditorium, was sponsored by Crawford Central, Conneaut and PENNCREST school districts as well as the Crawford County Career & Technical Center.
The first presentation came from Sherrill Rudy, awareness and prevention team lead at Living in Liberty in Gibsonia. Living in Liberty is a nonprofit safe house for those transitioning out of human trafficking situations.
Rudy discussed the various categories that fit within the definition of human trafficking such as forced labor, involuntary servitude, debt bondage or prostitution, forced marriage or illegal adoption, among others.
She also gave the statistic that human trafficking makes $150 billion worldwide, only second to drug trafficking as a profitable industry. The presentation included other troubling figures, including that there 40.3 million trafficking victims across the globe, 71 percent of which are female and a quarter of which are children.
Rudy also showed data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, revealing the number of reported cases to the hotline going up in Pennsylvania from 106 in 2015 to 275 in 2018. She also said social media was the primary way traffickers make contact with victims and that 91 percent of traffickers are people the victims know.
"Slavery hasn't ended; it just got a makeover," Rudy said to conclude her presentation.
Phil Little, senior supervisory special agent with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General in Pittsburgh, spoke about the risks of social media. Little compared social media to the restaurant industry in that the latest eatery or media craze draws many people regardless of quality, and either can shut down just as quickly. He also compared powerful smartphones to hunting training.
"I'm going to guess that when you taught your young ones to hunt you didn't put a rifle in their hand and say, 'Now go at it, little one, in the woods,'" Little said. "That's a ridiculous thought. This is my point. We taught that person in our lives how to use (a rifle) correctly, how to take care of it. Why aren't we doing the same thing with (a smartphone)?"
He emphasized that nearly all social media programs have in-app messaging software that could go unmonitored. Little focused on three popular apps, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok, which promote the sharing of photos and videos apart from text but also have direct messaging capabilities.
Little also discussed what he termed "secret apps," which mimic harmless programs such as calculators, but have hidden messaging, photo and video capabilities. He advocated to check which apps are taking up the most space on the phone.
Little also said people frequently equate the number of social media followers to popularity, which leads to teens accepting requests from strangers with unverifiable identities. He also touched on aspects of cyberbullying from connecting a person to an harmful photo to harassment and group shaming.
Alan McGill, senior supervisory special agent with the state Office of the Attorney General in Erie, discussed drug addictions and the alarming prevalence of the deadly opioid fentanyl. McGill said the No. 1 way drugs are obtained is out of the family medicine cabinet, although he showed two videos of a nurse and a pharmacist who stole drugs from their workplaces and became addicts. He also said trends have showed less of a dependence on a drug of choice and more about taking whatever is available to dull the pain of withdrawal symptoms.
He also talked about the increasing number of misleading pills or drugs that are combined with or wholly contain fentanyl, leading to overdoses or deaths. For examples, he noted late pop powerhouse Prince and Pittsburgh rap artist Mac Miller had believed to be taking a different drug, but toxicology reports said they had fentanyl in their systems.
Finally, Meadville Police Department Officer Nick Mogel gave a presentation on the active shooter training program known as ALICE that each of the sponsoring school districts have implemented in their buildings. He went through each of the ALICE acronym's individual sections — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — and how they form a successful survival strategy.
Mogel also played a harrowing 9-1-1 call recording from a librarian who was at Columbine High School in Colorado during the 1999 shooting. While the librarian had the students get down beneath tables, Mogel said ineffective training precluded the librarian and the students from exiting through a library-only back door that would have gotten them to a safer area.
Superintendents Timothy Glasspool of PENNCREST and Jarrin Sperry of Conneaut served as hosts of the summit and were positive about the event afterward.
"It was a lot in two hours," PENNCREST Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said. "I thought it was really good information. We were lucky to get such notable speakers. I'm glad for the turnout."
Sperry said the districts have talked about having a safety summit "every couple of years" to keep folks informed.
"There's just a lot out there for parents to know about keeping kids safe," Sperry said. "Whether it's ALICE training or the opioid problem — as the speaker said, it's drug use in general — social media, being aware of the dangers they present, and human trafficking. That's something that we don't talk about, but it's there."
Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.