Town officials have removed — at least for now — a controversial feature from a proposed policy framework aimed at safeguarding children from sexual abuse.
The feature in question would have enabled civilian and law enforcement authorities to inform private employers if one of their personnel had been suspected of inappropriate behavior involving children.
A revised draft of the policy, absent the employer provision, will be discussed when selectmen and the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Committee meet again jointly at 5 p.m. March 13, in the McGinty Room at the town’s public safety building on Chestnut Street.
The original version was part of a broader framework written with the assistance of Police chief William Baker aimed at helping police respond to predatory scenarios that cannot be prosecuted because they fall short of criminal conduct.
Baker suggested the policy was needed to address a gray area between suspicious or inappropriate behavior and actions that meet the threshold of criminal sexual abuse.
For example, some behaviors, such as sexual predators using “grooming” techniques to gain the trust of young victims, fall short of criminal conduct and cannot be prosecuted, Baker said.
That initiative was discussed at length during a prior joint meeting last month.
At that time, committee member Lynda Walsh voiced a range of concerns — but especially with the provision about reaching out to employers — while taking care to note that she did not speak for other committee members who favored the more aggressive approach.
In response to a question from Walsh, Town Manager William Keegan at the February session said that town counsel had participated in writing the proposed policy.
Even if the employer notification provision is dropped permanently, the revised policy framework still would enable police to obtain a legal document known as a “letter of disinvite” to bar suspicious individuals from activities that utilize town-owned facilities — including schools, playgrounds and even conservation property.
A related bylaw amendment placed on the May town meeting warrant, redefines the composition and scope of the seven-member sexual abuse awareness panel, which was established in December 2013.
That amendment also reinforces the panel’s lack of investigatory powers.
Although it officially remains on the town meeting warrant at present, recent comments by Keegan and individual selectmen indicated support for the bylaw amendment may be lacking.