BY DAVID WEPRIN
When I heard about the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl at the Pomonok branch of the Queens Public Library in the middle of the day on Monday, October 15, I was disturbed and outraged that we as a community failed once again to keep our children safe. I immediately called upon my fellow legislators in the State Assembly to pass the bill I introduced last spring prohibiting sex offenders from entering into the childrens’ section of our public libraries.
To me, it is absolutely outrageous that our children are not safe in our libraries, local parks, playgrounds, recreation centers and even our schools. We simply cannot allow any more of our children to be harmed by sex offenders in our communities. This horrific assault at Pomonok could have been prevented. It is a failure of our legal system that these predators are able to enter our public libraries and harm our precious children. We must put a stop to this now.
The bill, A10815/S7823, which I co-sponsored with State Senator John Sampson last spring, would prohibit all persons required to maintain registration under the sex offender registration act from entering the childrens’ section of a public library. Back in June, there was an incident involving two small girls, ages 6 and 9, at another branch of the Queens Public Library and the accused perpetrator was on parole for possession of child pornography at the time of the incident.
To enforce this bill, our libraries would need to create a separate entry into their childrens’ areas and request identification from any adult entering the space. Increased security in the childrens’ areas would also help monitor all activities taking place. Perhaps also the addition of security cameras would help protect our children while they are reading, studying, or enjoying a story time presentation. Our libraries have wonderful programs for children of all ages and parents should not have to worry about their children’s safety when they participate in these activities.
Also disturbing is a situation in South Ozone Park, which borders on my newly-re-drawn Assembly district, where the Skyway homeless shelter, which houses sex offenders, is located just 1,000 feet from PS 124 on South Conduit Avenue. I also co-sponsored a bill, A1947, that would restrict registered sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of a school. This legislation is still pending in Albany. Rightfully so, parents and members of the South Ozone Park community are frightened for their children and angry about the placement of these dangerous individuals in their neighborhood.
Clearly, we must do more to protect our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Libraries are places where our children learn – from the youngest toddlers to the freckled faces of our delightful teenagers – and there is no excuse for a convicted sex offender to have access to the childrens’ areas of any library. We need to be hyper-vigilant on these issues of public safety and work together to make sure no more children become victims.
New York State has taken numerous steps to ensure that sexual predators do not have access to children, but clearly we need to do more. I intend to work with my colleagues in Albany to ensure our laws do not provide loopholes for predators and that our children remain safe everywhere.
Assemblymember David I. Weprin (D) represents Queens Assembly District 24