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Consultant Presents Recommendations to Better Detect and Prevent Abuse at City Youth Programs

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By Jorge Casuso

October 16, 2019 -- The City of Santa Monica plans to establish a Youth Protection Committee to oversee efforts to detect and prevent the sexual abuse of children at City-run youth programs.

The creation of the committee was among the recommendations made to the City Council on Tuesday by Praesidium, Inc., a nationally recognized consultant in child abuse prevention.

The recommendations come in the wake of an alleged series of sex crimes dating back to the 1990s by a former City employee who volunteered at the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL).

Before making its recommendations in August, Praesidium conducted 105 interviews with staff at youth programs -- from the receptionist to the officials in charge -- and conducted program site visits in early March and late July.

Praesidium found that the City's youth programs have "dedicated staff committed to protecting youth" and "strong screening practices," said Praesidium CEO Aaron Lundberg.

Consultants also found that the City "requires and provides mandatory reporter training" and that many City programs have "strong policies and procedures to protect youth."

But consultants also found that staff is "sometimes uncertain of appropriate staff to youth ratios as well as all anonymous reporting mechanisms."

Praesidium recommended the City set standard policies and procedures that can be applied at all youth programs and ensure that all staff members and volunteers understand "that safety and the protection of children is part of their job."

The Youth Protection Committee would be charged with overseeing the "citywide standardization" of policies and best practices, reporting protocols, response procedures for incidents of abuse and training for staff and volunteers.

The City must "make sure everyone understands safety is the responsibility of everyone," from maintenance and front desk staff to leadership, Lundberg said.

The recommendations presented will be affirmed through a resolution brought back to Council in the coming months, according to City staff.

Praesidium's report comes one year after Eric Uller was charged last October with lewd acts with a minor dating back to the 1990s, when he was a City employee volunteering at the Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL).

Uller was charged on October 22 with five counts of sexual crimes against four teenage boys and committed suicide three weeks later ("Uller Found Dead in Apparent Suicide," November 15, 2018).

More than a dozen alleged victims have filed claims alleging City and PAL officials failed to investigate and covered up reports that Uller was molesting children enrolled in the program.

In addition to hiring Praesidium to review policies and practices, the City launched an independent investigation of the allegations ("High Ranking Santa Monica Officials Told About Alleged Child Molestation, School Board Member Says," October 22, 2018).

That investigation -- conducted by Irma Rodriguez Moises and Gabriel Sandoval of the law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo -- remains ongoing, City officials said.

Although the most recent incidents involving Uller "appear to have taken place in the early 2000s" they are "no less heartbreaking," said City Attorney Lane Dilg.

“As much as we might wish to, we cannot change any events from twenty years ago,” Dilg said at the meeting Tuesday.

“But we can take the opportunity to be the best we can be, now and in the future. And we are committed to doing so.”

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