Law enforcement officials take two sides

Loujane Johns

A letter requesting donations from local businesses from Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike dated Dec. 2, resulted in some controversy between local law enforcement .

The letter seeks donations for educational material “designed exclusively by National Child Safety Council (NCSC), a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization” for many years.  A long list of area businesses are listed as previous donors.

On Dec. 12, the area media outlets received a warning statement from Penn Yan Police Chief Gene Mitchell, noting several cases in other states where Executive Director H.R. Wilkinson of the National Child Safety Council has run into trouble with the law.

Mitchell says, “I saw a lot of money leaving town for this organization.”  He said Rochester area representative John Braun had visited law enforcement groups and couldn’t give good answers to questions.  He also has met Wilkinson, who described his problems in Pennsylvania as “just a little thing”.

Spike agreed the company has had management-solicitation problems in other states.  However, he says the local program has always produced a quality product with quantity sufficient for distribution by officers in schools, and in the community at large, especially to senior citizens. 

“If it did not, then we would certainly not support it and use them,” Spike says.

Spike re-affirmed in a telephone conversation on Dec. 15 that his agency has always had a good relationship with NCSC.  Spike said he had spoken to a group of senior citizens in Dundee earlier in the day and distributed safety brochures to them from NCSC.  He added that the Yates County Sheriff’s Department had received a state award for their bicycle safety program in which material from NCSC is used. 

NCSC is headed by H.R. Wilkinson and is located in Michigan.

A search on Charity Navigator rates the National Child Safety Council  with zero stars out of a four rating.  Wilkinson signed a consent degree with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in October 2007, whereby he agreed to refrain from further solicitations in that state and agreed to pay $150,000.  Several years ago his organization paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit in the state of Florida regarding his taking over a local fundraising group.

“The Penn Yan Police Department used to support this organization’s fundraising until two years ago when I advised their local representative John Braun that we would no longer participate,” explains Mitchell, who said Braun told him on Dec. 12 that he made a mistake by sending the Sheriff’s Department support letter to businesses inside the village of Penn Yan.

After hearing about Mitchell’s press release, Spike issued a communication upholding support of the NCSC. 

Spike says the Yates County Sheriff’s Department has  been affiliated with the organization for almost two decades, as are many other law enforcement agencies in New York.  He added the NCSC has operated as a non-profit agency for over 50 years. It’s web page can be found at www.nationalchildsafetycouncil.org.

In his statement, Spike explains, “For the past 20 years or so, both the Penn Yan Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department have worked with the NCSC in receiving local business donations to support crime prevention and personal education booklets, hand-outs, and materials to support law enforcement community education efforts.  This year, the material will support personal safety (both for senior citizens and child stranger danger), Internet crime awareness, bicycle safety, identity fraud and other crime prevention materials.

The affiliation started 20 years ago under Sheriff Jan Scofield and Chief Ray Stewart and continued through Chief Steve Hill and Spike.  Since Chief Mitchell decided not to participate two years ago, efforts have been made to seek support of businesses outside the village of Penn Yan in respect to Mitchell’s non-support.”