Since the Millennium Library instituted security screenings in February, 271 items have been seized — ranging from a handsaw to a hatchet, as well as dozens of knives — and police calls are way down.
Crime inside the downtown Winnipeg library spiked in 2018, with police called 122 times for disturbances, compared to 75 times the year before, and only 49 times in 2013. Criminal code offences inside the library rose 300 per cent from 2013 to 2018, and outside of the library, as well, police data show.
On Feb. 25, a bag check was instituted and a metal detector placed at the Millennium front entrance.
In the months since, police have been making fewer visits to the library for both criminal code offences and disturbances — but twice as many to check on patrons' well-being.
"I feel safer when I’m sitting… with my headphones in, because I know that they’re checking people," said library-goer Justice Henderson.
Criminal code offences inside the library fell 72 per cent in March and April (three charges), compared to January and February (11).
"There could be all sorts of incidents that happen at the library that don't involve police," Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson Const. Rob Carver cautioned.
"All of these questions centre around metal detectors... and changes in some crimes have absolutely nothing to do with metal detectors."
The number of items seized at the library doors has declined since the program was instituted: from about four items a day in the first 39 days of security screenings to about one item a day since April 6, on average..
Some potential library patrons might be turned away by the screenings, such as Victor Pelly.
"I just don’t like putting my stuff for them to scan," he said. "That’s why I stopped coming here. I thought it would be done already. It’s a hassle."
Pelly had hoped to check out a book while waiting for his bus, but decided against it after viewing security, worried it would take too long.
"You’re treated like a criminal. I always get racially profiled," added Blaine Albany, a history teacher who was headed into the library Monday to read up on Second World War history during summer break.
Meanwhile, community advocate group Millennium for All organized several protests and read-ins when the security measures were implemented, and spokesperson Sarah Broad said there are no plans to stop.
"In our opinion, it’s racism. It’s negative stigma," said Broad. "People who have been users of the library now have been excluded."
The group is partnering with Cinematheque for a screening of the Emilio Estevez film The Public, a fictional story of civil disobedience at a Cincinnati library. There will be a Q&A after the Aug. 10 screening, she said.
In September, a written report on the library screening procedures is due at city council, which will include the police data, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson said.
Broad said Millennium for All plans to launch its own alternative report before then, as group members are concerned the security screenings could become normalized.
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"We need different responses to how we care for the needs of the members of our communities than the ones we are currently implementing. And we’re more creative than implementing security checkpoints everywhere in the world. It’s ridiculous," she said.
Since June 10, free lockers have been in place in the library lobby for people to stash their backpacks rather than bring them through security.
"I don't have to carry it... They don't have to (scan) it," said library-goer Rickiboi Sambulad, who supports the screenings "for everybody's safety."
Items seized at Millennium Library since screening measures implemented
Feb. 25-April 5: 51 knives, 49 scissors, 29 microscrewdrivers, 12 loose razor blades, 10 normal/large screwdrivers, eight pliers/clamps, one saw blade, one handsaw, one mallet, one pipe
April 6-May 3: nine knives, 16 screwdrivers/bits, 11 scissors, five wrenches, two pliers, two multi-tools, two nail kits, one rebar, one hatchet, one drafting hatchetcompass, one taped conduit, one pry bar, one nippers
May 3-July 17: 15 knives, nine scissors, two screwdrivers, one nail/cuticle trimmer, one Butane torch, one bike chain
— source: freedom of information request City of Winnipeg
Public libraries in Thunder Bay, Ont., are looking at phasing out uniformed security guards, as part of a plan to make the facilities a more welcoming place for everyone.
“Sometimes, making the library feel safer for one group of patrons has a negative impact on another group,” said chief librarian John Pateman. “At the end of the day, what we want to do is make the library safe for everybody.”
From June to December 2018, Thunder Bay libraries had a series of community consultations and focus groups to hear concerns.
“Top of the list were issues of crime, safety and racism,” he said. “Homelessness and poverty were on the list, as well.”
Pateman took it as a mandate. Now staff are getting de-escalation training to handle incidents themselves, in hopes of one day phasing out uniformed security altogether.
“We want to spend that money on something more productive, let’s say — like books,” Pateman said.
He said it appears to be working: changes to make the library more inclusive and welcoming for all have been phased in since January and will continue to be discussed. But month-over-month internal tracking shows incidents are down, he said.