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Libraries: the untold story.


A PATROL OFFICER WORKING ALONE GOES TO INVESTIGATE UNUSUAL NOISES. A NORMAL looking, well-dressed woman is shouting into a pay phone. The woman screams incoherently at the officer, then assaults her. The officer notices the woman reaching for her purse, which the officer can see contains a handgun. The officer calls for help on her radio while trying to gain control of the woman's gun. By the time a backup arrives the gun has been secured by the officer and the suspect has been subdued and handcuffed. (*) A frantic citizen reports to a police sergeant that around the corner a crazy man is attacking children with a hunting knive. The sergeant rounds the corner and confronts a wild-eyed, bare-chested, disheveled man. The man has cornered a group of children and is advancing on them with a large knife in one hand and a club in the other. The sergeant positions himself between the attacker and the children and orders the suspect to halt and drop his weapons. The suspect ignores the verbal orders and focuses his attention on the sergeant. The sergeant is now in a life-threatening position and determines that lethal force may be necessary. Quickly surveying the surroundings to determine the safety of a potential shooting, the sergeant barks out a final command for the suspect to drop his weapons. The suspect finally complies and is immediately handcuffed. (*) A homeless man, bleeding profusely from wounds in his back, collapses at the feet of two officers. He reports he has just been stabbed and describes his assailant. The two officers radio in the information, and the suspect is captured a short distance away. It is later determined that the victim and suspect were acquaintances and had fought over drugs. (*) The vice president's wife is scheduled to make an appearance. Despite days of planning by Secret Service agents, a mentally disturbed man with a criminal history of threatening the lives of elected officials is spotted by uniformed officers. He is quickly and quietly whisked away. (*) Scenes from a television police drama? No. Real-life events encountered by the protective services personnel at the San Francisco Public Library.

THE SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC Library system provides services to Bay Area residents through a main branch and 26 district branches and reading rooms. The city library system offers patrons conventional services, such as books for loan and reference information, and specialized services that include materials for sight- or hearing-impaired persons, videotapes and record albums for loan, computer-assisted reference services, adult literacy programs, a library on wheels, a project that provides library services to the jails, children's programs, video tape players for loan, Polaroid cameras for loan, gallery exhibits, and more.

Voters recently approved a ballot measure in support of building a new, world-class main library across the street from the present building. This new library will use state-of-the-art technology to provide information services to the public. The security department is already compiling information on security hardware and design factors that may be incorporated into the new building's design.

The main library, where the security office is located, is situated in the civic center area of the city. The area is statistically a high crime district. Facilities serving the homeless, needy, alcoholics, teenage runaways, and addicts are prevalent, as is low-income housing. Drug dealing, vice activity, and street crimes are regular occurrences. The district police station is one of the most active in the city.

The San Francisco Public Library system preserves the open-door tradition of most urban libraries by making its services and facilities free and accessible to all persons. An undesirable aspect of this tradition is the attraction a library building provides to persons seeking free lodging, restroom facilities, a place to loiter, a hideout, or a place to commit crime. While many other private and government buildings are tightening entry regulations, libraries continue to allow free passage with little or no restrictions. Restaurants in the civic center area of San Francisco post "customers only" signs on restrooms or install coin locks, and entering City Hall requires passing through a metal detector. Other buildings restrict bags, backpacks, bedrolls, and carts. As a result, the public library finds more and more of these people coming through its doors.

This tolerance resulted in a disturbing increase during recent years in the number of disruptive or criminal acts committed in the libraries. Acts ranged from excessive noise to assaults with deadly weapons. Librarians and patrons complained of feeling unsafe. People reported being unable to find sitting space because seats were taken up by sleepers or bags full of food and clothes. Undomiciled individuals were dragging shopping carts full of belongings through the reading rooms. Street toughs were roaming the floors wearing knives or carrying sticks. Public restrooms became havens for drug pushers and users. The librarie's books and patrons' wallets and purses were stolen. Aggressive, problem patrons were threatening and assaulting other patrons of staff members. The everpresent perverts lurked in isolated areas to prey on library patrons.

At one time, library security meant hiring a retirement-aged gentleman or two, perhaps armed with a flashlight, whose job consisted primarily of quieting noisy students, admonishing an occasional book thief, removing a neighborhood wino's bottle, and locking the doors at closing. Yesteryear's noisy students have been replaced by youth gangs; the casual book thief is now a professional who steals quantities of selected books for resale; and the harmless wino is now accompanied by his or her schizophrenic, alcoholic, and drug-addict friends. Closing the library may require searching for concealed squatters, escorting employees to their cars, and setting alarm systems.

Today's successful library security professional is trained in laws of arrest, search, and seizure; may be first-aid and CPR certified; operates state-of-the-art electronic communication, surveillance, alarm, and access control equipment; deals with irrational or hostile persons; prepares reports; testifies in court; and operates under constant public scrutiny.

A library security officer must know the location of library resources and materials, present a professional image, and develop a police-like street sense to deal successfully with the criminal element. If the officer's position is not that of a sworn officer, he or she must have the self-confidence to withstand the barrage of "you're just a guard, you can't do nuthin' to me" insults regularly used by streetwise punks. While uninformed members of the public may smile smugly at the thought of a security professional working a library--thinking it to be a safe, quiet, peaceful environment--those of us who work at trying to keep the library that way know that without adequate security the library could quickly become an unsafe, noisy, hostile environment.

The San Francisco Public Library's security department employs three levels of security personnel and additional personnel to operate a manual elevator. Security personnel are all civil service employees hired from eligibility lists developed through competitive testing. All employees serve a probationary period and undergo scheduled performance appraisals. Salaries and benefits are generous, approaching those of police agencies. The security department levels are the following:

(*) Institutional police personnel. Institutional police personnel are used at numerous locations in San Francisco, and have ranks from police officer through police captain. They use the same uniforms, equipment, and weapons as the regular police.

Only one institutional police sergeant is assigned to the library system. With this status, the San Francisco Public Library security director is authorized to make arrests, issue citations, use the city police radio communications and computer network, conduct investigations, and work plainclothes duty as needed. Officers undergo a thorough background investigation prior to being sworn in and must qualify with their weapons, which usually include a service revolver, a sidehandle baton, and tear gas.

(*) Buildings and grounds patrol officers. These officers provide the patrol force for the library system. The majority of the patrol force's work is done at the main library, but it may be called on to handle assignments at any of the 26 branches. The officers' uniforms are similar to regular police uniforms except that their shirts are light blue instead of navy blue. The officers may be assigned occasional plainclothes duty. Buildings and grounds patrol officers may carry batons and tear gas, but do not at present carry firearms if assigned to the library.

(*) Security officers. An entry-level security position, these officers generally work stationary posts but may be assigned patrol duties. This position is being phased out at the library, with buildings and grounds patrol officers providing replacements.

The institutional police sergeant position requires completed attendance at a police academy, and attending in-service training is encouraged. Building and grounds patrol officers are not required to attend a police academy, but the current security staff at the library have all attended either a full-length academy or the abbreviated academy geared toward reserve police officers.

In addition to providing well-trained officers, involvement with the city police force has resulted in improved relations and response from district police officers. Local police responding to the library will generally find a suspect searched, Mirandized, and handcuffed. The suspect's record will have been checked. The evidence will have been marked and secured, Polaroid photographs taken, victims or witnesses interviewed, and the paperwork in order. This preparation has resulted in improved police response times and an increase in successful prosecutions. Another significant benefit is that there have been no substantiated complaints or lawsuits against security personnel.

Since 1985, the library security department has used portable two-way radios for communications. Patrol officers constantly rely on their radios for both emergency and nonemergency communications. The officer assigned assistance received by telephone or in person to officers on patrol via the radio. This officer also maintains surveillance of the entry and exit area and responds to the book theft alarm gate, radioing for assistance when needed. The radios have proven themselves invaluable.

In 1987, the security department received a Macintosh computer. The computer stores the records of all persons detained or arrested based on hardcopy field contact cards completed by officers during the initial stop. The files include personal data, charges, and disposition. The library started its field contact card system in 1985, and as of December 1988 1,011 names of problem persons were on file. Photographs of persons matched are shown to victims for further identification. The computer has significantly improved efficiency in the security department.

By maintaining contact with library security directors in other major cities, the libraries discovered they shared many problems can be broken down into the following major categories:

(*) property crimes--theft, damage and vandalism involving library property.

(*) crimes against patrons--assault, intimidation, sexually-oriented crimes, and theft of personal property

(*) crimes against staff--verbal abuse, assault, harassment, intimidation, and theft of property

(*) crimes committed by patrons--criminal acts committed by persons using library services, such as a theft by a patron who holds a library card

(*) crimes committed by nonconventional users--criminal acts committed by persons on library property with no intention of using library services

(*) incidental events--situations that occur on or off library property not directly involving the library but requiring some action by security personnel, such as assisting at the scene of a traffic accident in front of the library

Several typical library security problems and possible solutions were incorporated in the 1985 revised Library Security Manual. Other procedures were developed later as new problems arose. Some of the problems encountered and solutions found are listed here. Problem: Patrons and staff complained of the lack of security presence, although the library employed several blazer-uniformed officers. Solution: The department outfitted officers with police-type uniforms that had custom shoulder patches and metal badges. The blazer-uniformed officers were unrecognizable as security personnel, and when viewed from the side or behind looked no different from anyone wearing a blue jacket. The new uniforms provided clear recognition from all angles. Upon issuance of the new uniforms, several staff members asked if the security department had recently been enlarged. Problem: Stack prowlers, Peeping Toms, flashers, and other sexually-oriented problem patrons disrupted library service. Solution: The use of patrol and plainclothes personnel was increased in problem areas. Overt surveillance, swift apprehension, and vigorous prosecution of known offenders were made. Many suspects were found to have records involving sex crimes, were still on probation, or were registered sex offenders. Contacting violators' probation officers and complaining of their activities was extremely effective. Nonsecurity library employees were taught to recognize sexually-oriented behavior and help security in surveillance. Within a year the number of peepers, gropers, followers, and starers dropped measurably. Problem: Staff members complained of being verbally abused, threatened, or assaulted. Solution: The security department considered this a priority problem and took aggressive action against violators. If the incident involved a patron with a complaint, the patron was referred to the appropriate administrator. If the incident involved threats, abusive actions, or assault, the suspect was quickly taken into custody. Once the library developed a reputation of being tough on people who abused staff members, the number of incidents dropped. Cooperation from the district attorney and the city attorney resulted in appropriate legal action against violators. Problem: Complaints of odoriferous, dirty, unsightly persons displacing or distracting patrons were filed. Solution: Security officers were instructed not to initiate action against persons with poor hygiene unless legitimate complaints were received. Then, in a dignified and discreet manner, the persons are given information regarding free showers, medical aid, laundry services, and clothing. No records are made of the contact. No complaints have been received regarding this procedure. Problem: Irrational persons caused disruptions. Solution: These individuals were dealt with firmly but humanely. Many were simply redirected toward facilities between suited to their needs, such as local recreation or human services centers. If an arrest was made, alternatives to incarceration were used whenever possible. Instead of jail, many were referred to outreach clinics or mental health facilities. In cases involving extremely disturbed and violent persons, the San Francisco police department's Psychiatric Liaison Unit was called to provide a combination of police and medical personnel to deal with these cases. Problem: Street toughs, aggressive youths, parolees, and other antisocial types frequented the library and challenged the authority of staff members. Solution: The security department resolved to develop a reputation on the street of being fair but not a wimp, because if word was out that the library was soft on antisocial behavior, these characters would come in droves. If, however, the security staff made the library uncomfortable for undesirables, it could keep the majority of these problem patrons out. Dealing from a position of strength usually works well. The security department's philosophy is that criminals, whether arrested by a police officer or a library security officer, end up handcuffed and sent to jail. Problem: Squatters, loiterers, panhandlers, drunks, and others hung out on library grounds, entered the building to use facilities, and frequently caused problems. Solution: By regularly patrolling the perimeter of the library, security personnel can control this element. If laws are broken, appropriate action is taken. If laws are being skirted, the grounds are patrolled on a more frequent basis. Specialized architecture and environmental design can be incorporated to assist in making library grounds less attractive to the criminal element. Problem: Complaints that high-profile, armed security was inconsistent with the desired image of a library. Solution: In the security office of the San Francisco Public Library, one wall is covered with knives, axes, nunchaku sticks, daggers, lead pipes, hammers, clubs, chains, and other weapons taken from problem patrons. Whenever someone questions the necessity of a highly visible security force or the presence of an armed police sergeant as security director, he or she is directed to the weapons display and reproductions of news articles reporting on librarians who were killed or injured by armed attackers (none of them from San Francisco, fortunately). This usually helps to convince most skeptics that proactive security is a necessity.

The phrase "Nobody loves a soldier until the enemy's at the gate" applies well to library security personnel. By documenting its activity, the security department can justify its actions. Other effective methods include the department's

(*) getting involved with the library administration and staff,

(*) assisting in project planning whenever possible,

(*) providing a periodic summary of security-related incidents with in-depth highlights of unusual occurrences,

(*) sending out a list of emergency and service referral numbers, and

(*) sending out copies of incident and arrest reports to appropriate department heads.

Crime is on the rise throughout the nation. The number of homeless, needy, criminally-oriented, and unsupervised mental cases is increasing faster than government can effectively cope with. Public libraries will be affected significantly by these numbers, and the manner in which library security personnel deal with problems will have a bearing on the future of libraries. If conventional patrons find the libraries too dangerous or uninviting, public use, support, and possibly funding will be jeopardized. Library security will be put to the test of maintaining order while also reflecting the tolerant attitudes that have been a historical trademark of public library systems.

PHOTO : Above, person sleeps in doorway of San Francisco Public Library, blocking emergency exit.

PHOTO : On facing page, cardboard "condo city" is left behind by homeless persons who use library

PHOTO : grounds for lodging.

PHOTO : A dirty, intoxicated man enters the library in the midst of a group of young

PHOTO : schoolchildren.

Gary Thomas Kong is an institutional police sergeant serving as director of security for the San Francisco Public Library System. A former undercover agent, he is also licensed as a private investigator. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security problems
Author:Kong, Gary Thomas
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:The government and industry partnership.
Next Article:Countdown to teamwork.

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