Armed guard proposed for Dover library

DOVER — Safety at the Dover Public Library is a perception problem, according to some.

However, there are many others who insist there are serious safety threats that plague the inside of the massive three-story facility in downtown Dover, including accusations that a man exposed himself to a minor last month.

Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell said the city of Dover needs to devise a plan to address public safety at the Dover Public Library in order to win back all the public’s trust in patronizing the library.
Mrs. Mitchell proposed hiring a full-time armed security guard for the library at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall on Tuesday night.

Members of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee unanimously gave Mrs. Mitchell the authority to move forward to research “a better way of doing business at the library and bring back to committee.”

Mrs. Mitchell said that she has spoken with Kent County Levy Court Administrator Michael Petit de Mange about the issues the library has been facing and he said that adding an armed security guard for the Kent County Parks and Recreation Center has done wonders for safety at that facility.

Security for the library has consisted of having three cadets, one at a time, from the Dover Police Department sit behind a desk near the entrance and walking around the facility at certain times of the day. The cadets are not present all hours the library is open.

Donna Mitchell

“They (an armed security guard) would be there not only for the protection of the public, but for the staff,” said Mrs. Mitchell, “especially in the winter months when it’s dark when you leave there they would be there to help close up, as well as be there when they open up in the morning.
“That would be my proposal, is that we hire an armed security guard and see how it works.”

Mrs. Mitchell said that in the current city budget the cost of the three cadets who monitor the library is a little more than $60,000, while a certified armed security guard who would be at the library during all hours that the facility is open would be $85,000.

“I’m going to have to find additional money in the budget to cover this, but I think it would be worth trying this,” she said. “I’m hoping this is only a temporary solution, that we can get away from that, but until we can get all this kind of calmed down, that would be my suggestion to go that route.”

One safety measure the Dover Public Library has taken in recent weeks was to install dead-bolt locks on the bathroom doors.
That, according to Jill Street, a member of Library Advisory Council and mother of four children, is simply not enough.

“I have thought of my safety and that of my children,” Mrs. Street said. “I do not feel the dead-bolt lock on the (bathroom) doors was the best solution to the safety for all. This is not about locks or bathroom stalls, it is about how people feel downtown, specifically, at the library.

“I do believe that we are at a time that there is a need for increased security at the library. If we do not change perceptions, or some sad realities that there is a problem and how people feel when they come downtown, I believe that we will see a further decline.”

She suggested having a minimum of three guards patrol three floors of library during all business hours.
Most incidents seen as minor
Former Dover Police Chief Marvin Mailey addressed library safety issues in April 2018 before the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee.

He said that his department received 215 total complaints from the library from April 2017 to April 2018.

A total of 78 of those complaints were property checks (usually done by cadets at the library) and there were nine community outreach complaints, eight disorderly conducts, two complaints of a sexual nature and 12 fugitives apprehended at the library.

However, an incident allegedly took place at the library last month when Dover police said a man exposed himself before committing a sex act in front of a 17-year-old female. There was reportedly no security in the facility at the time. The suspect fled the library and was never captured.

There have also been reports of people doing drugs and drinking in the bathrooms. That resulted in the locks being placed on the doors. People now must go to the book checkout area and request a key from staff to use the facilities.

Zachary Carter, chairman of the Dover Library Commission, doesn’t agree with locking the bathrooms, particularly when many of the library’s patrons are facing physical disabilities.

“I don’t really think locking the bathroom doors is really an answer for security issues,” Mr. Carter said. “The old library that we had was roughly 17,000 square feet and it had two floors open to the public and there were full-time security guards there whenever the building was open.

“We moved to the (current) location with 46,000 square feet, three floors that are open to the public … and that’s just too big of an area and it’s too much for the staff to be responsible for any security issues that do occur.”

Ralph Taylor, chairman of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee and a former Dover police officer, said he respected Mr. Carter’s opinion, but said staff at the library have told him otherwise when it comes to locking the bathroom doors.

“According to the employees there, the bathroom being locked was one of the best things that ever happened,” Mr. Taylor said. “They said the drinking and the drugs was reduced significantly. They said it has significantly reduced the problems. If drugs are being used in the bathroom and we can prevent that by simply locking the door then I support that.

“The most common problems are the homeless sleeping with feet up on furniture, (being) loud and some lewd acts, but there is nothing more serious than that that I have heard.”

On board with armed security
The members of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee all agreed that more safety is indeed needed at the library – in the form of a certified armed guard.
“I just want to say that I think this would be a great idea,” City Council President Bill Hare said, of having an armed guard. “Having been at the library recently, when I walked in, there were three people with shopping carts and blankets camped out in the front entrance of the library to one side and were not moving anytime soon.

“I think having an armed certified officer there 24/7 that wouldn’t even happen if they saw the security person there.”
City Councilman David Anderson was also on board with Mrs. Mitchell’s suggestion.

“I agree with your proposal,” Councilman Anderson said to the city manager. “I think the Cadet Program has been a tremendous benefit to the city, but I think the cadets are better on the streets and in our parks as opposed to a stationary security in a library where there’s not enough of them.

“I think the research you’ve done on this particular (issue) holds great promise because (armed security guards) have a proven track record with Kent County and it will allow us to cover (all of) the library’s hours.”

Ms. Street said an increased feeling of security could go a long way toward how the community feels about going to the library – and even downtown for that matter.
“Believing in Dover means not ignoring the realities that exist in our community,” she said. “For us to continue to believe in Dover and encourage its continued economic development, we must change this feeling that many have (about safety) and have all community members accessing the library.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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