GREENBELT – The mayor and city council have decided to have city staff draft a new policy to protect children from sexual abuse after a city resident demanded stricter measures.
City Manager Michael McLaughlin will begin drafting new policies for city government and administration to better inform employers and residents of citizens who have been accused of possessing child pornography, Mayor Emmett Jordan said.
Guidelines must be set to balance protection of children and the justice employed by the legal system, he said. The council agreed unanimously Monday night on expanding community educational programs regarding child sexual abuse.
The mayor and council began discussing changes to city policies after reviewing a petition from resident John Abell who discovered a Greenbelt resident had been convicted for possessing child pornography in August 2012, but continued working at a public library.
Former Greenbelt resident David Hartley, 51, pleaded guilty to 11 counts of child pornography after being arrested in December 2011.
According to his petition, Abell became concerned because the Greenbelt News Review had not covered the story. After finding out about Hartley, Abell wrote a petition to council members in October 2012 asking them to implement additional safety measures and encourage transparency about the crimes.
“I can only guess why there was a silence,” Abell said. “It’s a small town and no one wanted to talk about this kind of issue. I think there was a shared consensus that there was no need to discuss this terrible crime.”
Abell said he wants the council to require people being investigated for possessing or creating child pornography to be revealed to the public for transparency purposes.
According to Greenbelt Police Capt. Thomas Kemp, Hartley was found in possession of more than 100 images of child pornography. According to court documents, Hartley continued to work as front desk clerk at the library even after his arrest.
Councilman Edward Putens said he was concerned about the time Hartley remained employed while the public was unaware of the gravity of his charges.
Councilwoman Leta Mach said she thought Abell’s demands to notify city employers when charges are filed might be unfair to individuals, especially if allegations turned out to be untrue.
“Disseminating information about related allegations may not only open the city liable to slander but also possibly prejudice the case and prevent getting the conviction,” Mach said.
Kemp said detectives interviewed Hartley’s supervisors at the library and determined Hartley’s work did not include private and direct contact with children.
“As long as we determine there is no specific threat to a child involved or ongoing threat that we need to publicize that information, our guidelines state that we wait until person is found innocent or guilty and then we prepare a press release,” Kemp said.
Laura Kressler, chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee, said it is practical and fair to assess risks to children and to the public based on police decision-making.
“The committee agrees that we should continue to protect children in our community as best as we can,” she said. “But we also have to recognize that there are charges which sometimes are not valid. And we don’t think that we should announce each and every case of complaint, accusation or even notify about a person under investigation. In this respect, we should leave this matter to the police department. I don’t feel we have to circumvent what they have been doing.”
Any employee whose work involves frequent interaction with children is already subject to state background checks, McLaughlin said.
Councilman Rodney Roberts said he is concerned about the absence of certain crimes in the Greenbelt News Review’s police blotter.
“If the community does not know what crimes occurred how can we say if police are posting all required things?” he asked.
Abell requested the council compel the city newspaper to publish in their crime blotter such crimes. Kressler said she could not control what the paper chooses to publish.
“I have heard a number of complaints about what [the newspaper chooses] for their blotter and details they take away, including often serious crimes they chose not mention,” Kressler said. “But we cannot tell them what to publish and how. It is evident that they perused the blotter but cannot publish each and every detail.”
The city’s new policy will be developed and available for public review during an upcoming September meeting, McLaughlin said.