A major survey will give parents and children the chance to tell police their experiences of online crime.
Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds has launched the online safety questionnaire to help police discover more about young people who have been the victims of crime on the internet.
There are three surveys aimed at different age groups – one for those aged five to 11, one for those aged up to 15 and one for parents.
It is hoped the results will help police to target their resources.
The surveys have been devised to capture young peoples’ experiences of being online and how they are affected by them, their perceptions of the risks they face and what they would do if they felt something they came across was inappropriate.
Mr Simmonds said: “We know that cyber crime is growing although it’s always difficult to quantify.
“We know that other forces are putting resources into the area but we want Northamptonshire Police to lead the way.
“We are putting in place investment for a special unit to tackle cyber crime and this survey will give us the chance to engage with young people about how we can help keep them safer online.
“Having a discrete team will be a major step forward.”
Cyber crime is the fastest growing crime sector in the UK and it is estimated it costs UK companies at least £21bn each year.
It is thought to be highly under-reported as members of the public are often not sure what constitutes an online crime, and police have often not been give consistent, cross-force guidelines.
Children are particularly vulnerable to online paedophiles who use social media and forums for grooming. They are also at risk of being the subject of indecent images distributed online.
A recent home office report said there were 373 recorded instances of online grooming in 2012-13.
Last year Northamptonshire Police smashed an international paedophile ring after a routine visit to the home of Kettering sex offender Timothy Ford and discovered a number of indecent videos on computers in the property.
This uncovered a crime gang that streamed indecent videos of Filipino children around the world. Ford was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in jail.
Mr Simmonds added: “We already take many steps to tackle online crime – we are out in the community monitoring people convicted of sexual offences but we are aware we do need a dedicated team who can spend all their time tackling cyber criminals.
“We are also going to be more clear on what is cyber crime, and what isn’t. But we also have to be alert to the fact that online crime has to fit into an offence under existing law.
“We would say to people that if they are unsure of whether a crime has been committed they should report it to us and let us decide.”
The survey questions include asking youngsters how much time they spend online, what their household rules are for internet use, if they feel they are at risk when they are online and if they have social media profiles.
They are also asking questions about if they have been targeted by online criminals.
Parents are asked how much they know about their own children’s experiences online and what they think could be done to help keep them safe on the internet.
The online survey is available here.
Former MP targeted by online troll
In 2011 the then Corby and East Northamptonshire MP Louise Mensch was targeted by a vile online troll who threatened her and her children.
Frank Zimmerman, 60, was given a 26-week suspended jail sentence after a court heard how he had sent a disgusting email to Mrs Mensch telling her that she should ‘get off Twitter’ and that he had sent a camera crew to photograph her and her children and that she had to choose between her children.
Mrs Mensch immediately called in the police and arranged security for her family.
A victim impact statement read out at Zimmerman’s trial detailed how Mrs Mensch, who now lives in New York, was terrified, and felt powerless to act as she was recovering from an operation and was 3,000 miles away from her children at the time.
Number of cyber crimes recorded in Northamptonshire between April 2013 and March 2014
Public disorder 2
Misc crimes 18
Violence with injury 3
Violence without injury 38
Other sex offences 14
All other thefts 6
Criminal damage 1