It’s hard to believe we’re about to “close the book” on summer, but then again, this year we’ve closed a lot of books. If you remember we partnered with the Delaware County District Library and Wornstaff libraries this summer as part of their summer reading program with a new program called Schiffel’s Safety Scholars (say that 10 times fast). We were able to use forfeited funds from drug trafficking cases to help provide books to kiddos about safety, and ultimately give them a prize for finishing the program. We can’t wait to do it again next year!
One of the books we read with local “celebrity” Sheriff Martin was #Goldilocks. This story was a fun, yet informative tale about — you guessed it — Goldilocks from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The twist on this classic tale was that Goldilocks took pictures and selfies of the “fun” she had (and the crimes she committed while having fun). She then used the pictures to get likes on the internet. As you can imagine, the case of who broke into the three little bears’ home was easily solved. The lesson? Obviously, don’t commit crimes, but also, remember that what we post on the internet lives on forever.
I love the message in this book for kids who are immersed in the internet world. While the internet can be a wonderful, fun, and educational place, it also has its dangers. Unfortunately, computers are impossible to avoid, even for the youngest among us. So, we must help our children understand appropriate ways to use the internet.
It’s not only children who need to be aware. The same words of caution are pertinent for adults, businesses, and even community organizations. Our office, for instance, has a Facebook page. We often post court updates and specific case updates. It’s a balancing act between creating a potential forever “record” on the internet and informing the public. What disheartens me, though, is cruelty. To put it bluntly, people can be especially mean with their comments, and argumentative in nature, all while hiding behind a screen. Do you think some of the comments we see online would be said in face-to-face conversations? I certainly hope not. It’s this mean-spirited, even false approach, to say anything you want (in any way you want) that makes me stop and ask, what happened to the Golden Rule? What happened to kindness and respect? Did we throw those values out when the internet came around?
You’re probably thinking, well this certainly isn’t newsworthy. People have been cruel online, some even to the point of acting like bullies, for more than a decade. While it does seem like there is a certain bully-like culture associated with online chatting, there is a lot of good, too, and I remain hopeful that kindness and truth will prevail. Remember, my glass is always more than half full. I shake my head when I see comments on Facebook that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sarcasm about criminal sentences (more on that in a different column); comments about a person’s appearance, or even comments from individuals who claim to know the victim. What irks me most are that these mean-spirited comments and lies are spread by Adults! We should be setting examples for our children. We should be following the Golden Rule, and demonstrating kindness and respect. Treating others as we’d like to be treated should be a staple, not an afterthought!
So why bother posting updates that are subject to questionable comments? Well, we don’t post court and case updates to receive accolades from the community. We don’t post updates to “brag.” If you understand anything from this column, understand this: There are no winners in the criminal justice system. The case updates we post more often than not have a traumatized victim who is left to deal with their trauma for life. On the other side, we have a criminal defendant whose life (and those of his or her family) has been changed and will continue to be changed by the actions he or she took.
We post court and case updates because it’s the most accessible and free platform to educate our community about what is going on in the court system. Like all communities, there is a certain amount of “denial Ohio” that goes on. Part of my job is to pull the curtain back on that denial and inform the community about what is truly happening. By sharing what is going on in the courts, and educating the community, we hope to make people more aware and maybe even prevent future crime or victimization.
Our office is always cognizant of our online presence. In particularly sensitive cases, we get the victim’s permission to post on Facebook. If a conviction gets sealed or expunged, we immediately delete any reference to the case on social media, or in a newsletter. Speaking of newsletter, we have a publication devoted to our Criminal Division. It’s free, and it comes in the form of an email. If you’re interested, email [email protected] and put “Subscribe Me” in the subject.
Finally, don’t be like #Goldilocks. Join me in choosing kindness and truth, and don’t commit a crime (but if you do, it sure would be helpful to my office if you posted about it! Ha!).
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.