Photo by Philipp Katzenberger.

Local police to the virtual rescue

The Internet is the most innovative element of the last decades, but it’s also a mine of crime and hate. Since the origins of the virtual world, illegal online activities have not stopped rising. An offline virus made us shelter in digital, but the newest threats find their victims there.

Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to this danger. Their exposure to social media has spiked during the last two years due to closed schools and mobility restrictions.

Valencia Local Police fights against the darkest side of the virtual world to react to trends, suspicious profiles, and common malicious techniques, but mainly to prevent teenagers from becoming vulnerable to criminal activities.

Protecting the childhood

Valencia police officers participate in school presentations of a digital game and organise working groups with other police officers from all around Europe. Rayuela, that’s how the project is named, addresses cybercrime at early ages, focusing on the human factors that trigger it.

The gender perspective takes on a leading role in the phenomenon of cybercrime
— Rubén Fernández

A class with kids and a police officer
One of the sessions in a school.

Valencia’s target is teenagers between 12 and 19 years old. In the schools, the police exhibit the education game, where the participants must make decisions that condition their trajectory. The cyber adventure generates learning for the player, on the one hand, and pulls out information on behaviour patterns for the agents, on the other.

That data and interviews with experts, aggressors, and victims set the basics of prevention and mitigation strategies. Measures, training for police officers, support material for victims and educational campaigns in schools are created thanks to the information exported.

The educational campaigns in schools will add to the programme ‘Help Prevent,’ focused on awareness talks in 120 local schools. “In terms of logistics, it will not mean much, but it will be imperative at a dissemination level,” adds Rubén Fernández, the project’s coordinator in Valencia Local Police.

A team of international law enforcement officers

Hate speech gets a special mention in these actions. According to Rubén, it is what primarily affects teenagers. “They don’t get to do scams or things like that on a large scale, but it affects them more directly, us, everyone in general,” he says.

What's the current trend on online grooming, or hate speech in your country?
— Rubén Fernández

It’s so recurrent that the CC-Driver project created a working group on the topic. “The first question posed in the Law Enforcement Agents Working Groups,” explains Rubén, “is what’s the current trend on online grooming, or hate speech in your country?”

Valencia organises a working group with police officers from European countries every three months to gather and exchange trends, experiences, and insights on online criminal activities. Thus, the CC-Driver project creates a safe space for law enforcement agencies. So far, they have discussed Sexting and online sexual coercion and extortion of children, online hate speech, awareness-raising, online child grooming during the pandemic, and hacktivism.

Online grooming, modus operandi. Rayuela Project
Online human trafficking, modus operandi. Rayuela Project
Online human trafficking victims' risks factors
Online grooming victims' risks factors
Cyberbullying victims' risks factors
Cuberbullying modus operandi. Rayuela Project

Sessions begin by analysing up or downtrend of the phenomenon in the attendants’ countries. After that, they all focus on challenges and best practices to learn from each other. The insights are gathered in a publicly available document afterwards.

All types of cybercrimes have increased through the years, and the international police officers give examples of some recent cases in the meetings. Brexit has triggered hate speech messages noticed by the Northern Ireland police in the UK. In the US, social media contributed to the polarisation of society.

Human factors

A recurrent topic that has come up in the meetings has been the profile of victims and aggressors, especially in grooming (an adult pretends to be a minor to obtain sexual material from another minor) and sextortion cases (a fake account demanding money not to publish sexual pictures previously requested).

We love to focus on human factors because, as local police, that's our strength, contact with citizens
— Rubén Fernández

“There are differences in the modus operandi depending on the gender of the victim,” explains Rubén. “The gender perspective takes on a leading role in the phenomenon of cybercrime.”

Due to the importance and the recurrence of the topic, the next working group will be dedicated to cybercrime from a gender perspective. “In this, we have a lot to say as local police thanks to GAMA, the specific group to help those women victims of domestic violence,” adds Rubén.

Valencia focuses on the human factors that lead someone to commit crimes or could turn users into victims. In the project, online behaviour gains prominence: disinhibition due to anonymity, the feeling that there is no authority controlling what is being done. “We love to focus on human factors because, as local police, that’s our strength, contact with citizens,” Rubén says.

Asked about the benefits of these two initiatives, Rubén is proud of their involvement. “Creating awareness and prevention campaigns aimed at young people to prevent them from being victims or aggressors of all these problems is very useful for us,” he concludes.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer
in numbers:
  • 12-19

    years old are the children Valencia’s police work with
  • 120

    local school have benefited from the educational campaigns part of the programme “help prevent”, focused on awareness talks
  • 5

    working groups have taken place so far with police officers from other countries