Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Getting a read on library gangsters

City, police, union bolster safety

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Gang members are harassing members of the public and staff at the downtown Millennium Library.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Gang members are harassing members of the public and staff at the downtown Millennium Library. Photo Store

Officials are hoping to author solutions to reports of gang members and others creating trouble at the Millennium Library.

An alleged drug dealer who was arrested last week in a skywalk to the library returned and threatened library staff. Earlier this month, two teenage girls were charged with assault following a confrontation with a library security guard.

Now the union, city administration and Downtown BIZ are working with police to keep the crown jewel of Winnipeg's public libraries safe for people and staff.

"Library administration is very concerned about the gang and gang-related activities occurring in and around the library," a city spokeswoman said via email Monday.

Library managers are working closely with both police and the Downtown BIZ patrol to step up their presence at the Graham Avenue building, she said.

"Our first priority is the safety and well-being of the staff and public that use the library system," the city spokeswoman said.

This winter, suspected gang members have made repeated appearances at the library. The harsh winter has drawn more at-risk kids seeking warmth to the library and there is a concern the rougher crowd will prey on them.

"I've gone down to see them myself," Downtown BIZ safety supervisor Shawn Matthews said. "And the ones I saw seemed like kids hanging out, or youth at risk."

The BIZ responded by upping its presence. "We have our watch patrols... and we've asked the watch to pay more attention and have an increased visibility."

Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen said there's no doubt some youth and adults are linked to gangs and crime.

Last Thursday, police arrested a man, 51, in the skywalk between Cityplace and the library.

Michalyshen said the known drug dealer was seen interacting with youths at the library. On Feb. 20, he was found with marijuana and warned to stay away. Within hours of his release, the man returned to the library and "he was openly aggressive with staff, in their face," Michalyshen said.

The next day, police foot patrols found the man and arrested him again.

He faces charges of assault and marijuana possession.

On Feb. 7, two teenage girls, aged 16 and 17, were charged with assault after a violent confrontation with a library security guard.

The 17-year old was accused of punching, slapping and kicking the security guard. The 16-year-old was arrested for picking up a piece of hard-packed snow and hurling it at the security guard, Michalyshen said.

"Our community-support unit is doing a lot more patrols and making more arrests based on the reports we've received," Michalyshen said.

The president of the civic union said he's heard the reports about gangs and he's grateful they are being taken seriously.

"I'm glad that the (library) manager, is doing his due diligence. He's taken steps to make sure they have more security checks, that people are walked to their cars if they're uncomfortable, to make sure there's supervision in the building, so no one feels unsafe," said Mike Davidson, president of Local 500 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

But he said if the library wants to avoid becoming a recruiting base for gangs, the city must do more.

"Is there enough for youth to be do in our city?" Davidson said.

"If we're not looking after the youth, the gangs will. So when we hear about arenas that aren't open during the day or recreation centres that may be not affordable or accessible, you've got to think about those too," he added.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2014 B2

History

Updated on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 8:03 AM CST: adds photo

1:06 PM: Corrects typo

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