February 21, 2013

Dalton recreation department expands background checks for volunteers

Also establishes conduct rules

Charles Oliver

— Coaches and other volunteers with the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department have long had to pass a criminal background check. But officials have adopted a new system just in time for spring sports that they say will be even more comprehensive.

“Our top priority is keeping our children safe,” said Program Manager Mike Miller.

Miller says the department at any given time can have 100 to 2,500 volunteers.

“It’s not just our coaches. We’ve got a number of people who help us out in various ways. During the Special Olympics we have more than 2,000 people helping out,” he said. “We haven’t had any problems here. But there have been problems in other parts of the country. That’s why we are interested in nationwide background checks.”

The department has teamed up with the National Recreation and Park Association and Operation TLC, which provides comprehensive national background checks as well as training on safety topics for staff and volunteers.

The Operation TLC background checks include a national criminal history check and a check of all state sex offender registries. The checks take 48 to 72 hours.

“We’ve been checking through the police department, which is free. That’s great, and we appreciate that. But we want to expand that and get even more information,” Miller said.

He said the department used the Operation TLC system in 2006 and 2007 but later dropped it for budget reasons.

“It isn’t free. But after looking at it and considering the benefits it has, we are adjusting our budget so that we can do this,” Miller said.

He said the department expects to spend about $5,000 a year on the system.

City Council member Denise Wood says the system just adds to the practices the department has put into place to keep children safe.

“Our coaches know when they sign up that they might have a background check, so this isn’t anything they don’t expect,” said Wood, the council’s liaison to the recreation department.

The department is also creating a “zero tolerance” policy for misbehavior from coaches and spectators. The rules bar them from unsportsmanlike conduct such as making threats or obscene comments toward players, coaches, officials or spectators. Those who violate the rules will be asked to leave and will be barred from the next game as well. A second violation brings a suspension for the rest of the season, and a third offense brings a one-year suspension.

If someone gets into a physical altercation, the person will be barred from all recreation department facilities for one year. A second offense will bring an unlimited suspension from all recreation department facilities.

“Unfortunately, we have had to ask people to calm down, and we’ve even had to have police remove some people. But we’ve never had anything in writing that states this is what will happen to you,” Miller said.

He said the department plans to post signs at its facilities reminding people to obey the rules.