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Explains, mebbe, Nathan's recent JL absence?Library Conduct Violations Reach All-Time High
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter
Posted: 11:35 am PDT May 27, 2009
Updated: 6:31 pm PDT May 27, 2009
SEATTLE -- The City of Seattle has been cracking down on bad behavior at its libraries, and there doesn't appear to be any shortage of it.
KIRO Team 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne discovered security has already ejected 432 patrons in the first four months this year for offenses like assault, drug dealing, intoxication and lewd conduct.
If that pace continues, it would far exceed any other year.
On Wednesday evening, the library board amended some of its "code of conduct" rules to better identify the most dangerous offenses.
They range from simple alterations -- like redefining the violation for "sleeping" to "appear to be sleeping"-- to more serious matters, like kicking out repeat offenders for two years.
Seattle's library employees just want to help people find books they love, but along the way, put up with being assaulted, threatened and spit upon.
Patrons see plenty of erratic behavior, too.
According to 2008 conduct violations reports obtained exclusively by KIRO Team 7 Investigators, security booted 113 patrons for being disruptive, 42 people for fighting or assault, 75 for making threats, plus 34 more for lewd conduct.
In all, 1,323 conduct violations were substantiated just in 2008, a disproportionate number at the Central Library branch.
Library users like Judy, who brought her granddaughter to story time, are surprised at that number.
“This is a place you bring your children and you don't want them to be exposed to that,” Judy said.
KIRO Team 7 Investigators documented 776 cases in 2008 where someone did something serious enough to lose library privileges. In just the first four months of this year, 432 people have been kicked out in all branches, with 232 of those just from the Central Library downtown.
KIRO-TV hidden cameras found similar problems in 2005. Since then, the library hired more security, which led to an increased number of reported violations.
According to Seattle Library Administrator Marilynn Gardner, nobody has to worry about safety at any branch.
"Anyone can walk into a public library and we certainly welcome people from all kinds of backgrounds and I think they all expect it be a safe, comfortable space when they're trying to do library work," Gardner said.
Our cameras this week found sleeping is still commonplace, even though it's supposed to be banned. Bringing in huge bags -- as our video showed -- is supposedly banned, too. It’s a security issue and a way to keep homeless from camping out inside.
A new library board plan will create a sliding scale of punishment for low-end security issues like sleeping and oversized luggage.
Staff will now give verbal warnings first, then if the person won’t stop repeat offenders may be barred for a short time period.
Flinn Jofrey thinks that's a good plan.
“For the most part it seems pretty decent. I do see homeless people sleeping sometimes. It doesn't bother me as long as they are not bothering me, but I can see why the library wouldn't want that.”
When crimes are committed (like setting a fire or dealing drugs), new rules say patrons could loose privileges for up to two years. That’s up from the maximum one-year ban.
So, the four people recently caught for carrying weapons in the library wouldn't get to come back for a while.
Library users we spoke with think that’s a decent idea.
“I think if they're clarifying the rules, that makes sense, that they want to make things more clear for people, but no, it already feels like a good safe spot.”
Seattle library data indicated the number of trespassing and theft complaints have risen to record numbers so far this year, but cases of lewd conduct and verbal threats have gone down.