PEMBERTON TWP. NJ- The mother of Megan Kanka wants the town’s help to keep children safe on the athletic fields.
“It becomes a no-brainer,” Maureen Kanka of Hamilton told Township Council members Wednesday night. “It is our responsibility to provide the safest play areas for our kids.”
Kanka’s 7-year old daughter Megan was raped and murdered by a neighbor, a prior sex offender, in 1994 just yards away from her home while her mother was in the kitchen. Since Megan’s death, Maureen and husband Richard worked to create Megan’s Law, a sex offender registry throughout the nation that lets people know about offenders living in their communities. The family also formed the Megan Nicole Kanka Foundation with a mission to keep children safe and parents educated on child safety issues.
“It formed on the heels of Megan’s death,” Maureen Kanka said following the meeting. “We provide education and awareness.”
The foundation is willing to split the $36 cost to run state and federal background checks on all volunteers involved with township recreational programs, Kanka said. If the town passes an ordinance requiring the checks, the foundation will pay $18 for each person fingerprinted and checked in the program the first year, Kanka said. The money for the program comes from a $500,000 federal grant and the foundation hopes to be awarded more state money.
“We have fingerprinted and checked about 9,000 people (in the state),” Kanka said. “We are applying for another $250,000 grant.”
The only string coming with the offer is that the town agrees to have 100 percent compliance with volunteers in all sports programs year-round.
Recreation Director Paula Redmond estimated the number of volunteers in all the programs to be about 300 during the year, which would cost about $5,600 the first year with the township responsible for half. If the volunteers submit to the recommended checks once every three years, the township would need to budget about $4,000 each year to continue the checks, Redmond said.
Once the volunteers are fingerprinted, checks for convictions in the state are made by New Jersey State Police and the FBI checks for convictions in the rest of the country. Each municipality decides which offenses cause the applicant to be flagged.
“It is not just sex offenders, but murderers, drug convictions, robberies and even deadbeat dads,” Kanka said.
If a conviction is discovered in a variety of areas, determined by the passed ordinance, the town is simply notified that the person does not qualify. The town is not given specifics of the individual cases, Kanka said.
“It is a deterrent,” Kanka said. “No (specific) information is given to anyone.”
Some towns form an appeals board that could grant a waiver to the applicant in the case of a minor drug conviction when the person was younger or someone behind on child support payments.
Kanka said 40 municipalities in the state are working with the foundation in the program and nine have completed the process.
Pemberton Baseball President Mike Balas said he supports the idea of the checks if they apply to all organizations including teachers and clergy, but is concerned an ordinance requiring the checks could reduce the number of people who volunteer.
“I’m not against the checks, but it could lose volunteers,” Balas said.
Balas said it could cost a baseball volunteer up to $400 during the three years with the required costs they already have with uniforms and courses.Charles W. Kim can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.