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Santa Monica Expected to Hire "Child Protection Officer" in Wake of Sex Abuse Allegations

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By Jorge Casuso

March 6, 2020 -- Santa Monica is poised to hire a consulting firm for $625,000 over four years to serve as a "child protection officer" to help safeguard against sexual abuse at City-run youth programs.

The City Council on Tuesday is expected to authorize the proposed contract with Praesidium, Inc., the consultant hired by the City in the wake of an alleged series of sex crimes by a former City employee dating back to 1989.

Hiring a child protection officer was among the recommendations the nationally recognized consultant in child abuse prevention made to the City Council last October. ("Consultant Presents Recommendations to Better Detect and Prevent Abuse at City Youth Programs," October 16, 2019).

The officer will collect and review materials relating to City-managed youth programs, conduct periodic on-site reviews of the programs' operations and design and monitor annual "reminder training," staff said.

After considering assigning the post to existing staff or hiring a new full-time employee, staff "reached out" to Praesidium, which did not seek to serve in the post.

"Praesidium has the expertise, experience and resources to perform the required functions of the Child Protection Officer and, in doing so, to train existing City staff" to take on the role, according to staff's report to the Council.

Under the proposed contract, Praesidium would be paid $220,000 through June 30, 2021, with three additional one-year renewal options in amounts not to exceed $135,000 per year.

The proposed contract would be awarded as an exception to the competitive bidding process, staff said.

The amount "appears to be below what it would cost, taking into account both salary and benefits, to hire a full-time City employee with the required experience and skills."

The Council on Tuesday also is expected to adopt a resolution "confirming the City’s commitment to enhancing procedures and practices to ensure lasting, City-wide efforts to prevent incidences of abuse of children in any City programs."

The City hired Praesidiumin in November 2018, one month after Eric Uller was arrested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’ Special Victims Unit for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor 14 or 15 years old ("Santa Monica City Employee Arrested for Lewd Acts with a Minor," October 18 2018).

Uller -- a systems analyst for the Information Services Department who worked in the Public Safety building -- was a volunteer at the Police Activities League (PAL) when he allegedly committed the crimes.

Uller committed suicide three weeks after his arrest ("Uller Found Dead in Apparent Suicide," November 15, 2018).

In its report to the Council last October, Praesidium recommended the City set standard policies and procedures that can be applied at all youth programs and ensure that all staff members and volunteers understand "that safety and the protection of children is part of their job."

It also recommended that the City create a Youth Protection Committee charged with overseeing the "citywide standardization" of policies and best practices, reporting protocols, response procedures for incidents of abuse and training for staff and volunteers.

Since the allegations against Uller became public, 17 alleged victims have filed claims against the City.

In addition to hiring Praesidium, the City has launched an independent investigation of allegations officials previously knew, or should have known, of Mr. Uller’s alleged criminal conduct.

In January, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confirmed its Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau was engaged in an ongoing probe of Santa Monica City Hall ("Sheriffs Probing Alleged Child Molestation Cover-up Involving City Hall," January 15, 2020).

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