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Youth Groups: Access To Predators’ Records Will Mean Better Safety

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The time has almost arrived for summer camp, and other activities where parents must entrust their children to virtual strangers.

As CBS 2’s Emily Smith reported Monday, new legislation has been proposed in light of a recent massive sexual predator bust. Proponents said the legislation will better protect children.

In sports and other children’s agencies, it can cost a lot of money to find out if someone working or volunteering is a convicted sexual predator.

“We can be spending up to $150 per person to try to find out this information,” said Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, executive director of the New York State After School Network.

“A lot of camps, I do want to point out, are certainly already doing this, but this would make it easier, more efficient, and more cost effective,” said Susie Lupert, director of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey.

Last month, 70 men and one woman were charged in a child pornography ring in the Tri-State Area. It was considered one of the largest ever roundups locally of people who anonymously trade child porn online.

Authorities said the defendants include an NYPD police officer, a paramedic, a nurse, a Brooklyn rabbi and a Boy Scout leader, among others. At the time, James Hayes of the New York office of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said these are not people you would typically think would be child predators.

“It certainly changes what we used to believe as the type of person who would commit this crime,” Hayes said.

In light of that revelation, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed a law that would allow organizations that work with children easy access to the FBI database. As it stands now, the database is available at any police precinct, but is not accessible to non-governmental groups.

“It would not cost an extra nickel to allow them such access, and would we forsake any privacy rights,” Schumer said, “because the only thing that they would be told would be: ‘This employee is OK, this employee is not OK.’”

Most children’s organizations have access to a database in New York State. But the database does not protect against predators who have recently moved to the area.

Little League baseball already requires national background checks, which are mostly free, as [part of Little League International. But this could be a game-changer for sports such as soccer and basketball.

Larry Berkowitz, the director at Forest Hills Little League in Queens, said there is no background check for those sports in his community – only baseball.

“It’s very disturbing, because you really don’t know,” Berkowitz said. “You know, somebody comes up with all good intentions that they’re volunteering that time, and we’re a volunteer organization, and we need as many volunteers as we can get. And it’s disturbing that something shows up like this.”

Berkowitz remembers raising his son in sports 22 years ago. Back then, there were not any background checks at all.

But times have changed, and Berkowitz emphasized that technology also has changed – making it more important for laws to change too.

To access the database, an organization representative would call an 800 number, directing the organization to the nearest precinct.

Right now, companies spend about $150 using third-party private organizations to gather the information. Under the new law, it would cost $10 per person.

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