By Dr. Steve Albrecht
Of all the tough topics on the library table today, few carry more weight than the relationship between your facility and when, how, or even if law enforcement officers should respond to issues, events, or problems inside. On the news and on social media, only the choice for president and race relations get more discussion and the role and duties of the police in our communities play a part in each of those conversations as well.
We need to create a new way forward, to build a different relationship with law enforcement, and ask them to provide trustworthy, fair, ethical, and safe services to our staff, patrons, and citizens.
Last month, I presented a Library 2.0 webinar on the changing nature of the police response to libraries. I talked about my background in law enforcement, my security consulting and training for libraries, the police culture (especially as it relates to their fears of being killed on the job), and some ways libraries can use other resources instead of calling the police for security problems inside or around the buildings. It was intended to be the start of a longer conversation that will have to take place between libraries and law enforcement (not just library people and me). I’m not the provider of all the answers, only the conversation starter. My intention was to give the webinar participants the backdrop on the police culture, so they could speak with their cops and understand why they think and act as they do.
What follows is two lists – one where your library will still need a response by police officers or sheriff’s deputies – even if you have armed or unarmed security officers in your library – and one where it’s probably not necessary to call the police. Your customization of both lists will be required, as you think and go forward on this issue.
Situations at the Library Where You Will Need a Police Response
An active shooter, mass murder, mass attack event.
A person armed with a deadly weapon, threatening or robbing others.
A fight between two armed patrons.
The sexual assault of a patron, child, or employee.
The attempted or actual kidnapping of a child or an adult.
Finding a gun or a large quantity of drugs in the library.
A violent confrontation between rival gang members.
A domestic violence incident, with injuries.
A hostage or barricaded subject situation, which will become a SWAT call.
Person(s) trying to steal expensive items or equipment from the library or patrons.
Violent crimes happening in the parking lot.
A bomb threat? (Only if you find a suspicious device.)
Indecent exposure by a patron; a patron in possession of child pornography.
Violation of Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), for a banned patron or a fearful patron or an employee with a domestic violence issue.
Situations Where You Might Not Need a Police Response
Petty theft of library or a patron’s property. (The police may not respond anyway, due to staffing shortages. It may only become a telephone report response.)
Mentally ill or drunk/on drugs patron. (Staff uses Dr. Steve Albrecht’s many high-stress communication tools, plus their own experience and training to get the person to cooperate and leave.)
Patrons arguing with each other. (Same as above.)
A loud, eccentric, rude, disturbing patron. (Same as above, above.)
A drug overdose event. (Paramedics will be needed, not cops.)
A crime case where the victim says he or she will not cooperate with them. (Sometimes people handle things their own ways.)
A small quantity of found marijuana, drug paraphernalia, or needles. (Have trained library staff or maintenance staff wear safety equipment and safely dispose of this stuff.)
Vicious dog? (Call Animal Control.)
Students fighting (no injuries); truancy issues; child abuse (Call CPS / APS directly to report).
Patron gets property stolen or car hit. (They can call the police and meet them outside if they want.)
These two lists are not complete, of course. You and your library leaders and staffers may have many other thoughts as to when the police are needed and when they aren’t. Sometimes the arrival of the police makes things instantly better: by lowering the emotional temperature; preserving the peace; calming the angry or hysterical; or enforcing consequences that solve the problem and prevent a reoccurrence. Sometimes the police show up and make things instantly worse: using physical force too soon, wrongly, or ineffectively; scaring or embarrassing people into acting irrationally; or just not having the proper training, experience, and wisdom about how to best encounter, manage, and help people who are not being their best.
We need a new way forward. We will always need the police, but not always. We need to use other resources and call the police when there are clear signs of impending danger, violence, or injury. Your best next steps are these:
- Determine your new criteria for a police response to your libraries. This will need to happen on a branch-by-branch basis. Based on the number and type of security incident reports, some libraries will have more safety issues that may require a more frequent police response than others.
- Discuss the current and expected police responses with your leadership team and employees, to get their feedback. Weigh the current realities you face in each branch, without getting caught up in the emotionality of this issue. Stick to the data. Create a balanced sense of agreement with your staff as to when to call the police and when to use other resources.
- Develop other resources related to security interventions, how to help patrons facing, mental health, drug/alcohol, and homelessness issues, and Think Outside the Box as you do.
- Meet with the leadership (preferably lieutenants and above) of your primary law enforcement agency – City Police Department or County Sheriff’s Office – and discuss your needs and their services. Create better boundaries for their responses and hear what they plan to do differently on your behalf.