Illicit Activities At Library? Police Chief Reacts
Police Chief Roberts: ‘If someone calls us, we will respond.’
By TINA A. BROWN And STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writers
May 20, 2008
One day after a Courant investigation documented ongoing security and public safety problems at the newly renovated downtown Hartford Public Library, the city's chief of police made it very clear what library staff and members of the public should do when they observe bad behavior.
Call the police, Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts advised Monday, even if Chief Librarian Louise Blalock objects.
Roberts said he doesn't have the staff to assign officers to the library full time. But he was adamant that concerns expressed by library employees about patrons who use library facilities to view pornography, commit sexual acts, recruit gangs and generally misbehave must be addressed.
"We don't do security. We enforce the law," Roberts said. "[Blalock] needs to have security in place. People who go there must understand that going to the library is not a right but a privilege and that privilege can be taken away.
"We arrest people for public indecency and public drinking all of the time. Why she refused to call us, I don't know why. ... If someone calls us, we will respond."
Robertsrecalledthat he was made aware earlier this year of some potential gang activity going on in the main branch and he offered to help. But his efforts were rebuffed, he said, when he tried to assign detectives into the library to investigate.
"She didn't want us in the building," Roberts said. "She didn't want people to feel uncomfortable [with police officers] in the building."
Blalock declined to comment Monday evening. She said previously that she had sought the help of police earlier this year when she believed gangs were using the library's computers to recruit.
Internal written reports obtained by The Courant and interviews with employees indicate that there have been problems with patrons drinking alcohol and using drugs in the restrooms. They've reported sexual activity on several occasions and say the theft of CDs and DVDs is common, particularly because there is no theft-detection system in place. The problems have worsened since the completion late last year of the $42 million expansion and renovation of the main library, according to some staffers.
Blalock and library administrators have been reluctant to call police, post rules or vigorously enforce rules of behavior, saying all members of the public should feel welcome. Unlike city libraries in other parts of the country that have police on site, Hartford Public relies on its staff to augment the security provided by a full-time director and part-time security officers.
City Councilman Pedro Segarra said Monday the library should make "enhanced security for its users" more of a priority.
"Given the situation we are in, they have to make more efforts to protect their collection, protect the users and get some sense of control over people who are going to the library to use it for what a library shouldn't be used for," Segarra said. "The fact that these things might be happening at the Hartford Public Library does not detract from the fact that they are doing a lot of great things. The question is, what are they going to do now to strategize and do better?"
Geraldine Sullivan, president of the library's board of trustees, said she wants to meet with the board and Blalock before determining a course of action.
"The board is very concerned about it," said Sullivan, who said she is going to try to schedule a meeting with Blalock before the end of the week. "It's hard to get 13 members together with the chief librarian. I don't want to speak until we meet."
The board's regularly scheduled meeting is June 5 at noon at the library.
Sullivan did say that she was not aware of the scope of the problems that the staff has been facing.
"Your article shed some light on things. We have some work to do and we have to address some issues. It will be some kind of proactive response. I'll need to get their input."
But board member Cynthia Reik said she thought The Courant's story was overblown, considering that the main library attracts 400,000 visitors annually. The story's placement on the front page, Reik said, was a cheap shot.
"It's grubby," Reik said.
Reik said the library has seen a vast improvement under Blalock's administration. "It was a dreary institution for a number of years and the leadership wasn't much before Louise. She's a world-beater."
E. Brad Noel, another member, added: "The library is becoming a welcoming place for all the population. It's wonderful. Maybe the downtown library is not what it was, thank goodness."
Noel said she would not favor any measures that would require more signs, announcing the rules.
The safety issues, she said, should not overshadow all the "good things" going on at the library.
"I was amazed when I found out that they were reading to the homeless."
Noel said she wasn't aware that the staff was becoming fearful. "There is no reason why we need to have pornography on our computers. We probably need some equipment so people can't walk out with our materials."
Former board President William Large said he was unaware of reports of public drinking and sex acts in the bathrooms. "As it's grown we've attracted an element that is not friendly to the regular library customers. It's unfortunate and I'm a Hartford person. It saddens me that the library has gone that way."
But finding money to beef up security will be difficult, Large said.
"I don't know where [Blalock] is going to find the money. This is something we have to deal with. I just don't know how we're gong to do it."
Ultimately, Large said, the airing of staff and customer issues in the library will make it a better place.
"We'll take a little heat and it will make the library better," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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