A state senator from Andover and state representative from Anoka have introduced companion bills in the Minnesota Legislature to require health clubs to take specific notification steps if a crime involving children happens at their facilities.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, introduced this bill one week after Coon Rapids resident Robert Dennis Minor was arraigned March 5 in Anoka County District Court on seven felony charges for allegedly using a wristwatch to videotape young boys changing at the Andover YMCA and at least one other fitness center locker room and for possessing multiple other files of child pornography on his home computer.
Minor was subsequently arraigned March 8 in Hennepin County District Court on one more felony charge for allegedly taping a young boy urinating in the bathroom at Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota.
The less than one-page bill Petersen introduced in the Senate March 13 requires health clubs to post “a sufficient number of signs” at the club and give notice to all members with children by email or mail. The notice would have to include a general description of the criminal incident, the date it took place and where it happened.
“I was very disturbed that the families of potential victims at several health club locations were not notified in an appropriate amount of time of the horrific incident that might have involved their children,” Petersen said.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, is chief author of the companion bill in the House.
The Senate version of the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, while the House bill was referred to the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. Hearing dates have not been set.
According to the Anoka County District Court criminal complaint, Minor followed a 12-year-old boy to a bathroom area inside the Andover YMCA men’s locker room and held his wristwatch with video capabilities over a partition to tape the boy changing.
YMCA Twin Cities spokesperson Bette Fenton said the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office was notified after the 12-year-old boy and his father reported the allegations to the Andover YMCA.
Fenton said the YMCA posted a notice on a bulletin board by its front desk and the sheriff’s office provided advice on what the content of the message should be.
“The ‘Y’ doesn’t need this legislation to do the right thing because we’ll always do the right thing for the members in our community,” Fenton said.
Petersen said he is a conservative that does not like interfering with private businesses, but as a parent of two children, he was not satisfied when the YMCA told him that it felt the notification on the one bulletin board was adequate.
When Petersen was a child, his parents would drop him off outside the Emma B. Howe YMCA in Coon Rapids and not go inside, so there is no guarantee that parents will always see an announcement.
Petersen said this case involves a child predator so there could be more victims. The best thing the YMCA and other health clubs can do in cases like this is to inform people, so more kids can talk to their parents.
The YMCA should be more out front when stories like this break, he said.
According to Petersen, he first heard about the Minor incident when a constituent called and questioned why they first heard about this alleged crime from the newspaper and not from the YMCA.
“I don’t know what parents would be opposed to this,” Petersen said.
Cmdr. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office said a staff person from Petersen’s office asked him why the sheriff’s office did not contact all the YMCA members who have children to inform them of the arrest and the allegations.
Sommer said he informed Petersen’s office that the sheriff’s office has no idea who the YMCA members are, much less which ones of them have children, because this is private data that health clubs have no obligation to share.
Even if the sheriff’s office did have all the names, it does not have the staff time to contact everyone, he said.
Therefore, it is up to a health club, such as the YMCA, to notify its members, according to Sommer. The sheriff’s office notifies the public through its press releases on which news organizations report, Sommer said.
“We still urge parents to exercise universal precautions when taking children into a public environment,” he said. “No legislation will offer 100 percent protection and ultimately no parent or business can guarantee a crime free experience anywhere that has a public component.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org