Burien About to Install Security Cameras Around Downtown Library
A confrontation in late January, involving a large group of young males, threatened to break into a fight in the main lobby of the Burien Library/City Hall building – read our breaking coverage of that here.
The next day, Burien Police again increased their presence in and around the library and unruly, sometimes threatening, behavior by some visitors in their teens and early 20s again decreased.
Just two weeks earlier, shortly before closing time on a Friday evening, the elevator was shut down because someone had urinated in it – not the first time such an incident had occurred.
Behavior problems among some young people at the Burien Library are nothing new. Minor acts of vandalism, including destruction of raised letters on lobby information signs, began almost as soon as the new building opened in June 2009 and have continued since.
Although staff has placed Rules of Conduct of the King County Library System (KCLS) in the Burien Library, the 8½ x 11-inch signs are neither designed nor located to command attention. Across the top, they say only “Courtesy.” There is no large type, easy to read from a few feet away, stating this is a list of expected behaviors by all library patrons.
The inconspicuous signs are found on the top row of Library Announcements – well above eye level – that are posted in the lobby next to the library entrance; by dictionaries at the end of a first-floor table where patrons reserve computer time and access the KCLS catalog; and with another sign on a small shelf, facing the second-floor librarian’s desk, at the end of a book rack.
And those rules, which sometimes go unenforced, are even harder to find on the system’s website. After going to www.kcls.org, one must click on “Using the Library,” then on “Library Policies” and then on “Using Library Facilities” before scrolling down to “Rules of Conduct.”
Another sign, posted out of the way on a wall in the first-floor side room with a copying machine for public use, lists Parental Responsibilities.
Patron Privacy vs. Public Safety
The Burien Library is not the only KCLS facility where the security of its patrons – perceived and real – has been downplayed by staff.
Following an incident at the Woodmont Library in Des Moines last spring, senior KCLS staff declared that patron privacy trumped patron safety (read our coverage of that incident here).
An elderly patron had been assaulted and robbed in the Woodmont parking lot, but when Des Moines Police requested the video tape from a parking lot security camera they were refused. Police obtained a court order for the tape – then quickly made an arrest.
KCLS officials said later their mission is to protect the intellectual privacy of their patrons – even in public places like parking lots and lobbies – and that they rely on police for the safety of patrons and staff.
In fact, the KCLS proceeded to remove security cameras from the 10 county libraries that had them. The Burien Library was not one of those.
Enough is Enough
In the wake of this most recent incident at the Burien Library, which posed a possible threat to public safety, the city decided to act unilaterally to improve security there.
Burien City Manager Mike Martin told The B-Town Blog Feb. 23 that security cameras are expected to be installed around the exterior of the building within the next couple of weeks.
The $49,561 cost of the cameras and installation will be paid with federal funds from a $150,000 Department of Justice police technology grant received by the city in 2009.
Additional security cameras next will be installed in the lobby, elevator and stairwells. Martin said he expects there will be enough money in the grant to cover that, but the city will be able to cover the costs of the inside cameras from the general fund if necessary.
“The idea is to have coverage of all trouble spots,” Martin said. “As we know from the incident, one of the trouble spots was the lobby.” Burien police will monitor the security cameras.
The library neither hires a private security service nor pays for the increased police presence there, and will not be asked by the city to help pay for the cameras.
“We’re a partner with the library in the building,” Martin added. KCLS was told that security cameras would be installed but it was not asked for approval to do it.
Dramatic Safety Upgrade
With the increased police presence, behavior problems at the Burien Library again have subsided during the past month. Yet city police officers can’t be there all time.
The security cameras “will give us complete coverage all around the building,” said Burien Police Sgt. Henry McLauchlan. “The safety value is going to be dramatic.”
But, McLauchlan emphasized, the cameras “will not intrude into the library” and compromise patron privacy.
But “if there is a problem” in the lobby, elevators or stairwells or outside the building, “we will have a record of it,” he said.
“We hope the cameras encourage them to have better behavior. With the number of calls we get, the number of complaints, and the number of problems, we’re taking advantage of technology to help us reduce them.”
McLauchlan added that “things have improved by again projecting an increased police presence at the library. But it’s still a gathering place for a lot of people, and this will help us monitor and better identify the problem children.”