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County passes law requiring amusements parks to report crimes

12/06/2018 6:00 AM |

A new law unanimously passed by Suffolk County lawmakers Tuesday requires amusement parks and water parks to report crimes, including sexual misconduct, to police immediately.

The language of the legislation explicitly references a “troubling incident that occurred at a popular water park in Suffolk County, when several girls reported being groped by a group of men in the park’s wave pool.”

The incident referred to in the law occurred in August at Splish Splash when a YMCA counselor reported to park staff that one of her minor female campers had been inappropriately touched in the wave pool.

A group of young men who matched a description given were ejected from the park, according to Splish Splash officials, but the men were not identified and Riverhead police were not immediately notified. 

Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills), who introduced the legislation, read a statement written by the victim’s mother, who wished to remain anonymous.

“We simply sent our daughter to day camp. We entrusted her safety and security on qualified professionals from the camp and assumed that security from a large family-focused water park would suffice in keeping her safe,” the statement read. “All involved failed.”

The mother continued that letting the men go effectively ensures that similar incidents will happen in the future. “The same five men can return to the park next summer and nobody would know or stop them,” she said.

In a year when the #MeToo movement gained national attention, the girl’s mother seemed disheartened that even though her daughter spoke up, nothing was done. “My daughter did everything right. She reported the incident immediately and even identified the assailants,” she said, urging legislators to approve the measure.

That resonated with presiding officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague).

“They did everything that everyone tells them to do and nothing was done,” he said, adding that  Splish Splash did not respond to a letter sent by county officials after they learned of the incident.

“I think it’s appropriate that we step in and do our part,” he said.

The legislation will now require amusement parks and waterparks to promptly report alleged crimes, including sexual offenses, that occur on their premises to local law enforcement agencies.

Ms. Berland said that prior to this law, privately owned businesses could decide how to enforce their own policies. In the case of Splish Splash, security escorted the suspects out of the park.

“It’s their property. They were erring on the side of protecting the people who were accused as opposed to protecting the accusers,” due to liability concerns, she said. “Everybody was looking at everyone else and no one called 911.”

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) supported the measure and said he would be open to widening its reach to include other spaces such as bowling alleys or movie theaters.

George Nolan, legislative counsel, said that in crafting the legislation, they found “very few statutes” that require people to report crimes. “We decided to start narrow with where the problem occurred last summer,” he said.

The measure would not impact spaces like town-owned public pools, he said.

Ms. Berland hopes the legislation will prompt other private facilities to review their own procedures when it comes to reporting crimes and sexual offenses.

In a statement, YMCA Long Island president Anne Birgis said the organization “endorses any initiative that enhances and protects the security and well-being of children.”

Ms. Berland pointed out that policy change has already come to the YMCA. “The YMCA actually changed their procedure. If anything happens again, they’ll call 911 and deal with the parent after the fact,” she said. “The first priority is to protect the child.”

Officials for Splish Splash did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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