Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

Police officer to stay on at Long Branch Library

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While the Montgomery County Council looks for more ways to deal with disruptive behavior at county libraries, at least one branch will continue its policy of employing a police officer to discourage youths from acting up.

At a joint meeting between the County Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety committees Thursday, council members were struck by the increasing number of disruptive incidents among teens, especially at Long Branch Library in Silver Spring. An officer is stationed there three days a week, for about three and a half hours at a time. Long Branch has the most disruptive behavior orders on file this year, with 19.

The County Council’s next move will be to determine whether library staff can notify parents when their children are written up for disorderly conduct and whether repeat offenders may be targeted for intervention by youth services providers.

‘‘We don’t want our librarians to be disciplinarians,” Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said at the meeting, but added, ‘‘We should not be permissive when it comes to disruptive behavior.”

Mary Louise Daneri, manager at Long Branch Library, said despite the numbers, the situation has improved at the library through the combination of police presence and staff training.

‘‘It’s peaks and valleys, basically. We get a new crop of kids who come in, and lose some of the old crop. ... These things happen in cycles,” Daneri said in an interview after the committee meeting.

Lt. Robert McCullagh, an officer with Montgomery County Police’s Third District, told the council members that the large number of incidents at Long Branch Library could in part be linked to staff members that were more comfortable using their authority. The atmosphere there used to be more permissive, he said, and the situation has improved. Incidents now are rarely violent, such as fighting or gang-related activity.

Disruptive behavior is described by the library system as ‘‘disorderly conduct, verbal abuse, fighting and refusal to abide by library rules,” according to a memo to County Council staff from Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Diane R. Schwartz Jones of the county executive’s office.

Library staff was given the authority by the County Council to issue disruptive behavior orders in September 2004. Not all incidents of disruptive behavior are written up as orders, but libraries have been keeping tally of warnings as well. The orders are usually issued to those who already have a report on file and have already been warned.

Those who received orders were typically banned from the library for up to 90 days.

During fiscal 2008 budget discussions, the County Council considered two budget recommendations from the library system that aimed to address the increases in disruptive behavior.

One, an increase in $50,000 to pay for police overtime, was approved. The second, $270,000 to pay for three program specialists while grants were sought as part of a larger initiative focused on youth, was not.

At about $46 an hour in overtime costs, about $14,000 has been spent at the Germantown and Long Branch libraries between February and June of this year, McCullagh said.

‘‘Do we want to have police officers in our libraries? No,” Parker Hamilton, director of the Department of Public Libraries, said at the meeting. But she said she had heard of people unable to get through the door at certain branches because of disruptive behavior.

At Long Branch, McCullagh said ‘‘there were times it was very challenging” due to the ‘‘mob mentality” of the youth who congregated there. Before the library made the decision to request regular police presence, McCullagh said two to three officers would answer calls at Long Branch about fights between ‘‘rival youth groups.”

County police also spent about a four-week period at the Germantown Branch Library in May and June. Maria Pedak-Kari, the branch’s manager, said in a telephone interview that police were requested at the library to address behavior by teens that were ‘‘intimidating to the librarians and visitors to the library.”

While the situation had improved at Germantown over the summer, Pedak-Kari said the incidents that made the library call on police while school was in session are reappearing.

‘‘We’re not yet at the point where we need that extra security, but it’s nice to know that it is an option, that there is that money in the budget to call on police,” she said. ‘‘Having the police here was excellent. It was a deterrent, and the kids got the message that this was serious.”

Bad behavior at county libraries

Disruptive behavior orders by branch:

2005:

Bethesda – 2

Fairland – 1

Gaithersburg – 1

Germantown – 1

Quince Orchard – 2

Rockville – 1

White Oak – 2

2006:

Bethesda – 2

Long Branch – 6

Quince Orchard – 2

Rockville – 1

Wheaton – 1

White Oak – 5

2007:

Germantown – 3

Long Branch – 19

Twinbrook – 1

Wheaton – 1

White Oak – 2

Source: Montgomery CountyPublic Libraries