Vallone: Keep Child Sex Predators Out Of Libraries
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio last week sent a letter to state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, urging them to consider enacting a law that would bar sex offenders from the Children’s Section and reading rooms at all public libraries.
Following the arrest of a registered sex offender who is charged with inappropriately touching two young girls in the Children’s Section of the Flushing Library, Vallone and de Blasio worked to establish the framework for the proposed legislation that would help protect youngsters inside libraries.
“This problem is real and it’s happening where parents trust their kids will be safe,” de Blasio said in a prepared statement. “A children’s reading room should be off limits for a sexual predator – just like a playground.”
Vallone said he is planning to introduce legislation that calls on state legislators to ban sex offenders from entering the Children’s Section at all public libraries. The measure would be an extension of similar bans barring sex offenders from entering schools or school playgrounds.
“The law is already on the books,” Vallone said. “We’re just extending it to keep youngsters safe inside our libraries.”
Joel Gruber, of Brooklyn, was recently charged with inappropriately touching the two girls, ages six and nine, inside the Children’s Section at the Flushing Library.
Gruber was on parole for a prior child sex offense at the time of the June 23 attacks, law enforcement sources said. As a provision of his parole, Gruber was required to sign up with the New York state Sex Offender Registry – a move that aided detectives in his arrest, law enforcement sources said.
Vallone has been wrestling with safety concerns of children in public libraries since an August 2011 incident at a library located just one block from his council office.
Vallone, who heads the Council Public Safety Committee, kept a promise he made at that time, to install cameras at the Queens Library branch at 21-45 31st St. in Astoria, where a man allegedly fondled a seven-year-old girl.
The young victim told investigators the man was “creeping around” in the second-floor Children’s Section at the library’s Steinway Branch, where he approached her as she was sitting on the floor, reading.
The man tried to engage the girl in conversation–and then grabbed her feet. “She said the man sniffed her feet, rubbed them against his soft beard and kissed them,” law enforcement sources said. “He did the same to each foot and then he picked up her flip-flops and sniffed them,” the sources said.
The man fled when the terrified child ran to her mother on the first floor of the library.
Police said no arrest has been made in the attack and the incident is an open case of misdemeanor child endangerment, which could put the suspect behind bars for up to one year, if convicted.
Vallone secured funding to cover the cost of installing surveillance cameras at the library branch and is working to secure funding for cameras in all library branches in his Astoria council district.
Prior attempts by lawmakers seeking to ban sex offenders from entering libraries were struck down by the courts.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this year rejected a similar proposal by lawmakers in New Mexico, saying the law would infringe on the First Amendment rights of sex offenders.
Vallone said he believes this extension of the current New York state law would pass muster with the courts.
The Astoria lawmaker said that while no law would completely stop offenders who prey on children, the new proposal would provide police with an additional tool to help protect them from sexual predators.
Queens Library officials released a statement praising de Blasio and Vallone for proposing the ban that would help increase the safety of children who frequent public libraries.
“It is essential that our children feel comfortable in visiting public libraries for assistance with schoolwork and lifelong learning,” Queens Library President Thomas Galante said.
“We thank our legislators for doing all they can to preserve a secure environment for them.”
Vallone said he is working with de Blasio to secure support and sponsorship of the bill by state legislators.
“We want to give children every legal protection we have,” Vallone declared.