Enumclaw committee tackles library safety, again

A survey asking about how safe you feel at your local library is open through Aug. 15.

The City of Enumclaw is encouraging residents to rate their local library in a short online survey.

The survey, which was put together by the Enumclaw City Council’s Public Safety Committee, went live Tuesday, July 23, and can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/M65N7MT; it will close Aug. 15.

There are only two questions on the survey — would you recommend the library to others? And, do you feel safe and secure at the library? — followed by a section for any additional comments. Approximately 1,000 people have already taken the survey, according to the committee.

Despite its brevity, however, the survey underscores the fact that city officials have been receiving complaints from their constituents about not feeling safe at their local library.

“The Public Safety Committee has had concerns for quite some time regarding KCLS policy regarding loitering, sleeping and consumption of drugs and/or alcohol on the premises,” City Administrator Chris Searcy said in an email interview, adding that the committee — consisting of Councilmen Kyle Jacobson, Beau Chevassus, and chair Chance La Fleur — plans to speak with KCLS Director Lisa Rosenblum later this season, likely in August. “The committee wanted to solicit comments and opinions from the library users and have some additional data to discuss with her.”

Enumclaw made an effort in March 2017 to address some concerns, with various degrees of success.

One common complaint was about people sleeping in or around the library, and the EPD suggested library staff should be removing people who are not using the library for its intended purposes. The department noted that the library staff’s “total lack of cooperation with police is widespread knowledge among the folks who use drugs and alcohol, who don’t want to be bothered.”

Back then, KCLS told the city it was currently evaluating whether to adjust its Patron Code of Conduct policies to include sleeping, but ultimately, it appears the library system decided against it.

In a phone interview, KCLS Director of Community Relations and Marketing Julie Acteson said they don’t see sleeping as an issue, and there’s a reason staff members are trained to only remove people who are being actively disruptive.

“We want our libraries to be open and welcoming to all, and having a patron who may fall asleep in a chair, we don’t consider [that] as a disturbance to others,” she said. “In fact, to actually go up and try to stop someone from sleeping could potentially cause issues.”

Though unconfirmed by The Courier-Herald, there have been reports of people washing themselves in the library bathrooms, another activity not banned under the Patron Code of Conduct.

“As long as they’re not creating some sort of big disturbance as part of it, there’s no reason we would prohibit someone from using the facilities in that way,” Acteson continued. “We are a public building. We’re open to all people, regardless of their walk of life or their condition of life.”

It’s not just what happens inside the building that’s concerning the city and locals, but outside as well; back in 2017, the EPD suggested KCLS remove the concrete wall and seating area that occupies the southwest corner of the library.

“Its intended use has been redirected to a concealed area for fights, drug use, drinking, loitering and sleeping,” the department wrote.

The library’s answer back then was that there was no money in its budget to cover that sort of work, but also added that library staff and patrons enjoy that seating area.

Acteson was unable to speak on any updates, if any, for that seating area, since KCLS’ Director of Facilities was on vacation last week.

The city and KCLS did come to some agreement in other areas of concern.

Since the 2017 discussion, the library now turns off its WiFi at night to help prevent loiterers when the building is closed.

Police also suggested KCLS put up a “no trespassing” sign to give them more authority to remove loiterers after hours, which KCLS said it would look into.

Acteson said KCLS doesn’t use “no trespassing” signs because some patrons find the language confusing, but individual libraries have been using “no loitering” signs instead. However, the Enumclaw library has yet to install one.

La Fleur declined to comment on any specific complaints the Public Safety Committee has received or about any suggestions its three members may have as this time on how to make the library feel more safe.

“Our committee is working to gather the public’s thoughts and opinions of the library in advance of a meeting with the director of KCLS,” he wrote in an email interview. “We look forward to working with KCLS collaboratively in any ways we can improve library service, safety, and experiences for the members of our community.”

However, Councilmember Jacobson added that if people feel unsafe at the library, they ought to call the police; according to him, the EPD has only “a handful” of formal complaints, despite how often people turn to social media to complain about alleged loiterers, drug users, and sleepers in or around the library.

The sooner the police are called, the more authority they have to respond to an incident, question witnesses, and potentially remove a subject from the library, Jacobson said, also noting the committee has requested officers perform extra walkthrough and patrols of the library.

The EPD’s non-emergency line is (360) 825-3505.

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