Despite claims to the contrary by library officials, there has been a steady increase in the number of calls to the New Rochelle police department from the library over the past three years. Calls include reports of “serious incidents” such as burglary, larceny, assault, and one sex offense. Many of the calls are for “disruptive behavior” with many of the calls coming during after-school hours.
On January 24, 2010, the Journal News published an article by Ernie Garcia, New Rochelle, Yonkers libraries ramp up security. The article was based an investigation initiated by the newspaper after receiving complaints from workers in the Mount Vernon Public Library about violent incidents in November. The article, which we had praised at the time, makes the following points about the New Rochelle Public Library:
- Library officials have increased security in the past year to manage disruptive patrons and crime.
- Library officials installed surveillance cameras at its central branch in response to behavior and security issues.
- The most common reason staff or patrons at the main branch summoned the police between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2009 was disruptive behavior.
- Most calls to the police for disruptive behavior in 2009 occurred between 3 and 6 PM.
- More than 9,000 people per week visit the main branch.
- The New Rochelle library system circulated close to 600,000 items in 2009.
The article contrasted the public libraries of New Rochelle and Yonkers which had been proactive in dealing with unruliness occurring during after-school hours with Mount Vernon which had failed to address worker complaints about increase in violence and refused to respond to requests for information from the Journal News. Any regular patron of any public library in the area knows there can be, from time to time, “after school” disruptions as kids left of steam after being released from school. That New Rochelle is no different was confirmed by Thomas Geoffino, New Rochelle library director, who is quoted in the article. “We do see some exuberant behavior during that time”, Geoffino said. “Oftentimes kids can get a little rowdy, but in most instances it is nothing exceptional.”
As regular patrons are already aware that the library can get a bit loud after 3 PM on occasion, the article is largely unremarkable in this regard and in no way could be construed as a criticism of the New Rochelle Public Library. An informal survey by Talk of the Sound confirms that patrons would support any reasonable, cost-effective way to minimize disruptions and improve public safety. Underscoring this point, commenters on the lohud.com web site had only positive comments about the NRPL. Talk of the Sound is unaware of a single complaint about the decision to install surveillance cameras at the library.
Not mentioned in the article is a far broader co-operate effort to minimize disruptions. Statements made at a recent community meeting reveal that the library has reached out to the New Rochelle Police Department and the City School District of New Rochelle as part of comprehensive approach to make a visit to the library more pleasant for patrons. Talk of the Sound will have more on this subject in a subsequent article.
Given the factual accuracy of the article and that it was generally holding out the NRPL as a positive role model, it was a bit if surprise when the library board responded by attacking the paper.
On February 3, 2010, the newspaper published a letter from Greg Varian, Vice President of the Library Board of Trustees. Mr. Varian was highly critical of the Journal News. Writing on behalf of the entire board, Mr. Varian accused the paper of publishing a baseless, inaccurate story. He labeled the headline of the article “misleading”.
The headline — New Rochelle, Yonkers libraries ramp up security — correctly states that the two libraries have taken steps to increase the level of security at the library.
Varian went on to state in his letter that while cameras were installed, it was not “in response to an unsubstantiated increase in disruptive behavior”. The article does not mention an “increase” in disruptive behavior at the library so to criticize the reporter for failing to substantiate a claim he did not make is misplaced. The article’s only reference to the police incident reports was to note that calls to the police for disruptive behavior were more common during after school hours. In a subsequent interview, Mr. Varian claimed that the article implied that there was an increase in disruptive behavior.
There is no claim that incidents have been on the rise — implied or otherwise.
Varian took particular umbrage at the following sentence in the Journal News article:
The New Rochelle Public Library installed surveillance cameras at its central branch in response to behavior and security issues.
In his letter to the editor, Varian replied:
…the library’s board of trustees made the decision to install surveillance cameras inside and outside the main library building, not in response to an increase of crime, emergency medical service, suspicious activity or disruptive behavior (all reasons for contacting the police), but rather, as part of an ongoing, proactive effort to improve security for an ever-increasing number of patrons.
The article does not address calls to the police based on “crime”, “emergency medical service”, or “suspicious activity”.
A review of the library’s own web site show the sentence at the heart of Mr. Varian’s criticism is taken almost verbatim from the minutes of an NRPL board of truseets meeting on November 5, 2009. Mr. Varian presided over the meeting in his role as Vice President of the Library Board of Trustees:
Surveilance (sic) cameras have been installed and have already been put to use in relation to behavior or security issues.
Even after this sentence from the board meeting was pointed out to him, Mr. Varian continued to insist that the the cameras were not installed in an attempt to minimize behavior or security issues.
“I stand by my position that the JN’s story was misleading”, wrote Varian in an email. “The minutes from the one referenced Board meeting don’t contradict my point that the cameras were installed as a proactive policy by our Board.”
The minutes do appear to contradict much of what Mr. Varian wrote in his letter to the editor including his claim that there was no factual basis for the Journal News article. Not only was there a factual basis for the article but the reporter was citing the library’s own records from their own web site at a meeting at which Mr. Varian was recorded as “present”.
As to the issue of whether there has been an increase in incidents at the New Rochelle Public Library, Mr. Varian stated that the paper failed to “investigate year-over-year statistics” and thus provided “no evidence for the basis of its story”. The paper never made such a claim.
To clarify this issue once and for all, Talk of the Sound obtained the New Rochelle Police Department records for calls from the three addresses used to denote the New Rochelle Public Library from 2007, 2008 and 2009. The three addresses are 8 Memorial Highway, 794 North Avenue and 1 Library Plaza.
As can be seen in the two charts, police records clearly indicate a steady annual increase in the number of calls from the library to the police, an increase in the number of serious incidents called into the police and a similar increase in the number of calls specifically related to complaints of disorderly behavior.