Security blanket: Dover library looks to enhance safety

From left, Allison Gilbert and her daughters Kyla, 7, and Makenna, 8, enjoy the range of children’s books the Dover Public Library has to offer. Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller

DOVER — Recent disturbing incidents have created a general feeling of insecurity at the Dover Public Library and led the city manager’s office to look at hiring a security firm to watch over the library for 66 hours a week — essentially all hours that the entity is open.

Members of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday night to allow Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell and Assistant City Manager Matt Harline to interview Gettier Security and Sunstates Security LLC and choose which one will become the security provider for the library for an amount not to exceed $56,000.

Members of the committee applauded the city manager’s office for looking to increase security at the library.

“I do applaud this pivot toward becoming a more secure, more consistent security presence at the library,” City Councilman Tim Slavin said. “The issue that I hear the most from my constituents is, ‘What happened to the library? Can we get it back?’ And this is what they want.

“At the end of the day what we’re concerned about is not who wears a gun or who doesn’t wear a gun or what color shirt they have for security, we want the library to be a safe place that everyone can go to. I think if we can keep focused on that we’ll be fine, and this is one step in that direction.”

Mr. Harline said the library has had a history of having security on the premises. However, city staff believes it needs to have a stronger presence moving forward.

“The provision of security at the library has been a topic recently, but we have had security at the library since before (Dover Public Library Director) Margie (Cyr) was there in 2008,” Mr. Harline said. “We tried a kind of contracted service and since 2015 (security has) been provided by the Dover Police Cadet Program, which has been successful to a point, but there was a desire to make sure that there was full 66-hour per week coverage.

“For that reason, and after consulting with the library and with acting (Police) Chief (Tim) Stump — and after consulting with (Kent) County, who is already using the (security) service — we have come to the conclusion that the best way to provide that service and to assure the public that we have somebody on duty at all times is to work through the state contract for a security firm.”

The State of Delaware issued Request for Proposal #GSS19363 in December 2018 for security officer services. Last April, the state selected two of the four applicants to enter into contracts for security and subsequently entered into agreements with Gettier Security and Sunstates Security LLC. The state’s agreements with both firms began on July 1.

Librarian Assistant Heatre Bernat, asks Joseph Hummer, 3, to choose his favorite animal sticker.

Through a cooperative purchasing agreement, the city of Dover is eligible to “piggyback” off the state’s contract.

Kent County Levy Court has already hired Gettier for security service at their Administrative Complex and at the Kent County Recreation Center at 1683 New Burton Road. Because the state conducted an open, advertised, competitive, public bidding process, the city can use the bid prices without going through an additional selection process.

However, the city said it will conduct informal interviews of the two approved contractors to determine which is a better fit for the library.

The negotiated rates in the state contract for guards on a regular schedule are: Gettier Security $23.75 per hour and Sunstates Security LLC $25.81 per hour. If the city secured the rates stated in the state contract the cost would be $49,898.75 for Gettier and $54,226.82 for Sunstates.

The city would be able to negotiate its own rates, but officials said the actual rate is likely to be very close to the state’s rates. If the company is given 30 days’ notice to hire the necessary staff the city would be eligible for the standard rate.

Based on the availability of the two licensed and approved security firms, city staff has recommended that city council authorize Mrs. Mitchell to interview both firms approved under State Contract No. GSS19363 and negotiate an agreement with the preferred firm for security officer services for the Dover Public Library and possibly other sites.

Looking for a secure fit

Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Harline said it would come down to which firm fits in best with what the city is looking for.

“Working with Margie (Cyr) and with Chief Stump, the duties for security service, we worked those through to come up with a more detailed standard operations (for security personnel) and for removing somebody (from the library) who is not following the rules,” said Mr. Harline. “I believe that by moving forward this way that we will be able to provide the best security option for the library.

“What we’d actually like to do to start with is to try unarmed security and review it after a few months to see if we wanted to change it to armed security.”

From left, brothers Ezra, 4, and Bellamy, 1, Kerr enjoy the interactive play.

Mrs. Mitchell said with the Dover Police Cadet Program needing to focus its resources elsewhere in the city that time is of the essence for hiring a security firm.

“We’re looking at unarmed security,” she said. “We’re going to be screening them to make sure they fit. The other issue is I’ve talked to acting Police Chief Stump to provide radios to whoever gets the contract. That will be important.”

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. asked Mr. Harline if people were still using the library as a place to sleep or to get out of the heat or the cold outside, taking aim at Dover’s homeless population that commonly frequents the facility.

“As long as they give the appearance of using the library appropriately, we will leave them be,” Mr. Harline said.

Troubling times in the library

City officials admitted that several incidents at the library so far this year have heightened awareness of actual and perceived security problems, including:

March 19 — at 3:30 p.m. a man went into the women’s restroom and took a photo of a 65-year-old woman who was seated in a stall.

June 22 — at 1 p.m. a young man allegedly exposed himself to a female teen in the library’s teen loft. The man allegedly later went to a separate library and did essentially the same thing, and from footage at both libraries he was identified and is part of an ongoing investigation.

Aug. 20 — at 10:30 a.m. a man allegedly exposed himself to one of the homeless women who frequent the library.

Sept. 4 — at 3:30 p.m. an altercation began on library grounds in which one man struck another man in the head. Police cadets and Dover police responded and after a brief pursuit apprehended the offender behind City Hall. Library staff have no incident report and cannot corroborate the news report that the fight started in the library. The victim in the incident has indicated he will not assist prosecution of the case.

“Originally, we were pursuing this as armed security, but (changed) for a variety of reasons, including consideration of what we’re trying to say about the library,” Mr. Harline said. “We have not had violent events inside the library. We have had a lot of annoying events that need to be addressed by well-trained professionals, but we are certainly willing to review that after a couple of months.”
Mayor Robin Christiansen said he hopes the city manager’s office lives up to its promise of revisiting the armed security issue after a couple of months.

“I commend you for your efforts for holding up on armed security guards at this point in time, but I hope that you will follow through and do an assessment of if it is necessary, because I — and I’m sure everybody and all the members of council in this room — hear complaints weekly, if not daily, about the security at the library and people who would like to use the library who don’t.
“We need to find a happy balance and we need to find somebody who’s going to enforce the rules across the board for everybody.”

Dover Police Cadets had provided security at the library since the program was initiated in 2015.

But over the past four years, the demands for more cadet presence in the downtown area, the full-day schedule of the library and turnover with the cadets appeared to make the cadet service a bad fit for the library security detail.

Changes on the way

The library staff has said it is committed to making its space available to public who want to use the facility for its intended purpose.

Those Dover residents who can use the facility for its intended purpose in a non-disruptive way, which includes providing access to the internet for legitimate information searches and access to email, are welcome regardless of income level or housing status. The library staff is committed to providing service to those individuals.

However, Mr. Harline does expect a couple of changes to be coming when dealing with the less fortunate with the new security detail.

“One thing we do need to address is winter’s coming up and we need to address the idea of the library being a depot for certain social services that have used that as a place to collect and pick up people for lodging and meals for those people who need those services,” he said. “That was a problem last fall and we need to make sure that it’s addressed, and we come up with a better solution for people in our community that need assistance.

“Asking them to wait at the library causes problems because they were being asked to go to the library when they don’t necessarily want to be there.”

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

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