Councilman: Safety at Dover Public Library may be a matter of perception

Marvin Mailey

DOVER — Dover Police Chief Marvin Mailey put out the numbers regarding safety concerns at the Dover Public Library over the past year, which indicated that perception may be different from reality — depending on who is looking at the figures.

Chief Mailey, speaking on library safety issues at City Hall at Tuesday night’s Council Committee of the Whole Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee meeting, said that his department received 215 total complaints from the library from April 2017 to now.

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.

Noting that the library receives nearly 1,000 visitors each day, City Councilman David Anderson said with a laugh, “Those numbers are better in terms of safety than what my neighborhood is.”

Councilman Matt Lindell, who brought the discussion of library safety to the table, had a very different view of the numbers that were presented, especially considering that many of the library’s most frequent customers are children.

Matthew J. Lindell

“I’ve heard that the safety issues are being dealt with, but one lewd act is too many,” he said. “I know you can’t read people’s minds with what they’re going to do in the library but there has to be a way that we can restore the confidence in the citizenry of Dover.

“Let me put it this way, there are things that shouldn’t be occurring in any public building for one thing and secondly, something that no parent should have to explain to a child that could have easily witnessed these (lewd) events.”

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said he could relate to both councilmen’s feelings.

“I believe, as Councilman Lindell said, that one aggressive act is an act too many,” the mayor said, “but I also concur with Councilman Anderson that because of the presence of the Dover Police Department and their professionalism and cooperation with the staff and the patrons of the library, that the library continues to be a safer place than it was when we first started out (in its new building in 2012).”

David Anderson

Margie Cyr, director of the library, said the cadets that work for the Dover police are a great help, but Chief Mailey has been currently relegated to just four of them. He is in the process of recruiting new cadets and has an allotment of up to nine.

The cadets are at the library at specific times that library staff and the police have agreed to — mainly high frequency hours.

During the cadets’ patrol they have to make a foot patrol of the library every hour to check all of the floors and the bathrooms. It also includes an exterior patrol of the library.

When they’re not patrolling the cadets are in the front lobby observing people entering the building and making sure patrons aren’t disobeying the library’s acceptable behavior policy.

“The library takes great pride in our services and our staff and our facility and we don’t want there to be any perception at all in the community that the library is unsafe for anyone — and the facility is not unsafe,” Ms. Cyr said. “We do occasionally have people who behave badly, both inside the building and outside the building on its grounds.”

She added that since the new Dover Public Library opened in 2012 that they have had to evolve and have made specific physical changes to address layout issues that presented challenges to behavior management.

“We removed the snack vending machines in the lobby, we removed the tables and chairs from the lobby and we installed office space in the lobby,” Ms. Cyr said. “We have rearranged the tables and chairs on all three floors and we have enclosed the small theater in the back of the building in order to be able to secure the space when it was not being used for its intended purpose.”

Councilman Lindell made it clear that he wasn’t trying to be adversarial with library staff, that he just wanted to make sure the issue of safety at the facility was addressed.

“I just simply asked for an update as far as where we stand with some of the issues because I’ve heard some of the same issues occurring, things that I don’t feel comfortable with putting out there plainly,” he said.

“I’m not looking to be adversarial, I’m not looking to stir the pot so to speak, there are issues and the first thing in dealing with a problem is identifying that there is a problem and coming up with a solution.”

Chief Mailey said the biggest issue that his police force faces is that most times people don’t call in an incident right when they observe it, instead taking a day or a week to call.

Oddly enough, Ms. Cyr said that one of the biggest problems is when “good-natured people” hand out food to the less fortunate in front of the library, who then bring it inside the facility and often leave trash lying around.

“Our staff is very committed and they love what they do and the service that they provide for the community,” she said. “We don’t want a building that is unsafe and that people don’t feel comfortable in using, so we talk about this issue a lot.”

Councilman Fred Neil suggested that the city gets somebody to monitor the 25 or so video cameras inside the library in real-time and report any instances they might see to police and also get a group of volunteer walkers together to simply observe.

Councilman Anderson eventually made a motion — that was unanimously accepted — that Ms. Cyr submit a memorandum to City Manager Donna Mitchell asking for her to look into having exterior cameras being installed at the library as part of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

While the numbers of issues at the library might not seem high when compared with the number of people who visit the facility each year, Mr. Lindell said that any issue – particularly one of a sexual nature – is one too many.

“My position on the issue is lewd behavior is lewd behavior,” Mr. Lindell said. “It doesn’t matter if you live in Maple Dale, or you don’t have a penny to your name, the bottom line is if you’re not using the library for its intended purposes, then you’re detracting from other people’s experiences there – and something needs to be done.

“Just imagine how many others that we could reach (to come to the library) that have lost faith because they had a negative experience with the safety issues. There’s a large part of the taxpaying population in Dover that have kind of turned away from that because they don’t feel confident in their safety.”

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