Q&A/FBI checks keep losers off city’s coaching staffs
In April, the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) City Council enacted a policy requiring volunteer coaches for youth sports activities to submit to background checks by the State Law Enforcement Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. City employees that have regular individual contact with the 2,900 children in recreation programs also have to clear the investigations. The city, which has 400 coaching positions, is paying for the background checks, which cost about $10 each at the state level and about $25 each at the federal level. The council decided to implement the background checks in light of recent national reports of child molestation by Catholic clergy, says John Pedersen, assistant city manager.
Q: How will the city implement the policy?
Pedersen: The first time someone comes to us as a volunteer coach, we will require both a state background investigation and an FBI background check. We decided that, once you went through the FBI check, as long as you maintained your primary residence in South Carolina, we would only do an annual update through the state system. We would not take you back through the FBI system every year. It’s an expense to the city and an inconvenience to the volunteer coach, and we didn’t feel that it was necessary. We feel comfortable that there’s a relatively minor risk that they would have gone someplace else and committed a crime and that we wouldn’t have knowledge of that.
We had already started baseball and softball practice when the desire to do this emerged. So, with respect to [those coaches], we simply did the state check. We’re starting the full-blown program in the fall for the football and cheerleading season. That’s when we’ll do the FBI checks as well as the state checks.
Q: What kinds of things would exclude people from the chance to volunteer?
A: Offenses against a person (crimes that resulted in someone’s death, kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, carjacking, committing or attempting to commit a violent crime); and offenses against morality and decency, including things like prostitution, indecent exposure, disseminating obscene materials, and disseminating harmful information to minors. Also eavesdropping, peeping, voyeurism and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Basically all felonies would be included as well. We also included any alcohol- or drug-related violation except for any misdemeanors that were committed 10 years or more ago.
We modeled this on the state’s program for the registration of childcare workers. The state had laid out some specific criteria, and we basically mirrored those criteria.
Q: Why is it necessary to conduct FBI background checks in addition to state investigations?
A: People frequently move here from out of state. So we didn’t really feel like we [would do] an adequate job of checking [records] if we confined our efforts to just looking at crimes committed in South Carolina.
Q: Were volunteer coaches screened in any way at all before you started this policy?
A: Many of our coaches, particularly in baseball and softball, are repeat coaches every year. So they were screened in terms of our staff’s knowledge of their character, but there was not a criminal check of any type.
Q: Do parents who assist coaches have to pass the background checks?
A: We have a provision that does not require temporary volunteer coaches to go through this procedure. If a Little League coach went to one of the moms or dads and said, “Can you help me keep score, or can you hit fly balls to outfield?” and it was just a one-time or an occasional thing, we don’t try to monitor that. We do have a requirement that there be a person who has been certified through [the background checks] on site.
Q: Was there any concern that the city was vulnerable because it didn’t do these checks before?
A: I don’t think we really felt that, in the absence of [background checks], we were more likely to have those sorts of people come here to coach. I think it was mostly the desire to make sure we had done everything we reasonably could do to [protect] the children while they were in our care and make sure that the city was covered.