Last Friday The Huffington Post reported on the case of a “naughty” Santa in Cleveland, Texas. A man who appears on the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry played Santa Claus at a recent city event, posing for photos with children.
The man, a volunteer with the city, was recognized by a member of the public who knew of his record. The news quickly spread, parents were outraged, and now the city of Cleveland is scrambling to put together a background screening policy that will “prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”
There are certainly nuances of this case that will have some people questioning the public outcry against the man who played Santa. His offense took place when he was a juvenile. His records are sealed. He has no legal restrictions placed on him with regards to access to children. And there may be some merit in those arguments but it’s hard to see the logic of allowing anyone—volunteer or not—direct physical access to children without background screening.
In our view, regardless the status of his records there are two related issues here:
- You have a city that appears to have overlooked an important step in protecting its citizens. Failure to perform background checks is the biggest complaint of the woman who reported the issue to the city manager.
- That city is now suffering from bad press and a tarnished reputation. Right or wrong, no parent wants to discover that the person now photographed holding their child is also pictured on the local sex offender’s registry.
While it has been reported that the city of Cleveland is now rushing to put a background screening policy in place to prevent such issues in the future, had the city run a background check on the individual in question here they would have easily discovered him on the registry and from there, could have made an informed decision about how to proceed. Perhaps, suggesting other volunteer work that would not involve direct physical contact with children, or placing him in the role of “Santa riding atop the fire truck” instead of “Santa posing for pictures with children,” or even finding someone better suited for the role.
We just ho-ho-hope others will learn from this story.