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Marie Nitke, Forum News Service, Published November 07 2013

Deterrent or cruel? New website urges Perham residents to report 'suspicious behavior' among minors

PERHAM, Minn. – For a website that was launched less than two weeks ago, this one’s already gotten quite a few tongues wagging.

The site, ittakesavillageperham.com, urges Perham residents to watch out for and report suspicious activity by minors, such as underage smoking, possible drug use and “hanging out in unusual locations ... campers, vans, sheds, garages.”

Parents, neighbors, concerned residents and even other teens are encouraged to make “citizen reports” through the website, including names and photographs of kids who seem to be engaged in suspicious behavior, as well as where they were seen and what they appeared to be doing. This information might later be shared on the site and with local law enforcement. Last names and photos are not posted to the site.

The site features pictures of people looking through binoculars and spy glasses, along with text such as, “You see them! They are packed into the car like clowns. It’s after midnight and you know they are up to no good! Are they drunk? Are they on drugs? Are they going to a fight? Don’t their parents care?”

“Neighbor used to watch neighbor,” states the site’s homepage, “and if they saw a child doing anything dangerous, would tell his parents. With people not knowing their neighbors, this doesn’t happen like it used to.”

The site’s creators, who didn’t want to be identified, started it as a way to deter kids from using drugs or engaging in other illegal activity.

The issue is personal to them: As one of the creators explained in a telephone interview, her own teenage son had to be sent to a boys’ home for drug addiction. She’s trying to prevent that kind of thing from happening to other families.

“He had been so secretive,” she said of her son’s addiction-related behavior. “And it dawned on me that secrecy was part of the problem, so I thought that maybe this website could help (others).

“If we can keep one kid from trying drugs, that’s our goal, even if it’s only one,” she added.

Despite what the site’s creators believe are good intentions, the backlash has already begun.

In responses posted on the site, one person calls it “cruel” and chides it for “stereotyping” and “bullying” the so-called “bad kids.”

The creators say they have also gotten some threats from kids who have figured out who they are, who tell them things like, “You better watch yourself” or, “We know where you live.”

And not long after their site launched, another site, perhamissafe.simplesite.com, popped up in response. Evidently created by teenagers, this site encourages public comments and states, “We don’t want to be followed or have pictures of us on display on that creepy website. We are not animals. We are teenagers. We deserve privacy and freedom.”

There was no response to an email sent to the administrators of that site.