Halls guy Aaron Yarnell is on a crusade to make social media use safe for teens. Through a website called www.socialsafetypatrol.com, he reviews apps for computers and wireless phones and responds to questions from parents. And through his SMART initiative, he will speak free to civic or church groups.
Yarnell spoke Tuesday to the Powell Business & Professional Association at Jubilee Banquet Facility.
He heads a tech-based unit for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. “We started with two detectives and now have 10,” he said. “We average 40 arrests a month – career criminals, felons.”
The detectives monitor the online social media habits of suspects. They learn their friends and follow their “digital footprints.” Yarnell started as a technology consultant for the Sheriff’s Office. He quickly became intrigued about ways to use technology to enhance law enforcement. He applied to become an officer, serving the required stint at the corrections facility and then working a patrol beat. He made detective and then captain.
He’s also dad to four daughters. “You cannot stop kids from using social media,” he says. But parents must engage with their youngsters: “You become their first ‘friend’ and they become yours,” he said. “Know their lock codes.”
Yarnell worked on the TBI-led case of Maury County teacher Tad Cummins, 50, accused of kidnapping his 15-year-old student after a “courtship” on social media. Cummins eluded capture for a month, and he was finally found living with the girl in a cabin in California. It was a tough case to solve, Yarnell said, because Cummins had used a technique called “drafting,” leaving little trail for investigators. He would leave a message for her in draft form. She would read and delete it, then leave a message for him in draft form. The messages were never “sent.”
Yarnell urged parents to “be the detective,” saying a telephone is not a toy for kids but “a tool for you.” Parents can use their child’s phone to monitor where they are, even how fast they are driving. In response to a question, he said his kids got a phone when they entered sixth grade. The phones go on a family charging station at 8:30 p.m. and are not used during dinner.