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Decades-Old Law, Even Older Technology Led to Mark Berndt Arrest

Film dropped off at a CVS store in Redondo Beach provided authorities with the tip they needed

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Wednesday, Feb 8, 2012  |  Updated 12:40 PM PDT
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Decades-Old Law, Even Older Technology Led to Mark Berndt Arrest

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The portion of the law that led to the arrest of an ex-teacher charged with felony child molestation involving 23 students at Miramonte Elementary School was adopted at a time when film cameras were the norm and digital cameras were still decades from the mainstream.

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: California Mandatory Reporters

But it was the watchful eyes of film processing technicians at a Redondo Beach CVS that led authorities last year to Mark Berndt, a 61-year-old ex-teacher charged in connection with photos developed at the store. The film techs at the CVS provided sheriff's officials with about 40 images that included blindfolded children, some with spoons of semen held to their mouths, according to authorities.

A section of California's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act outlines who is a "mandated reporter."

The definition that applies in the Berndt case: "A commercial film and photographic print processor, as specified in subdivision (e) of Section 11166. As used in this article, 'commercial film and photographic print processor' means any person who develops exposed photographic film into negatives, slides, or prints, or who makes prints from negatives or slides, for compensation. The term includes any employee of such a person; it does not include a person who develops film or makes prints for a public agency."

California enacted the nation's first child abuse reporting law in 1963, but it only required physicians to report suspected cases of physical abuse. Amendments over the decades expanded the definition of who must report such cases.

Other mandated reporters now include social workers, teachers and other school personnel, physicians and health-care workers, child care providers and law enforcement officers. The circumstances under which a report must be made vary by state, typically requiring anyone who suspects or has reasons to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.

About 12 states require notification if a photo technician discovers pictures that depict possible child abuse.

California's act requires that such reports be made within 36 hours. A technician called authorities after noticing the images in the Berndt case, according to the sheriff's department.

Such tips declined as digital cameras became more prevalent, but many stores that still make prints from CDs and flash drives have provided tips to authorities.

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