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Redmond Library staff, police encourage patrons to report suspicious behavior

As an academic tutor, Redmond resident Debra Boyle would often meet with her students and their parents at the library.

It was usually the Redmond Library, but she also frequented other libraries on the Eastside as well as in Seattle.

But then in February, one of Boyle’s students told her that a man — another patron at the Redmond Library — had approached him. From what she gathered from her 14-year-old student, Boyle said the man wanted the teen to do suspicious activity with him that indicated sexual behavior with a minor.

“I put it all together and (my student is) not comfortable here,” Boyle said about the library.

Boyle told the teen’s mother about the situation and the two agreed to move the tutoring sessions out of the library.

ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR

Boyle reported the incident to library staff the next day and said she was told that they couldn’t just ask someone to leave the library. Deciding to do something about it, she went back to the library a few days later and handed out fliers to fellow patrons and parents dropping off their children at the library, explaining the type of behavior taking place in the library and how it may not be as safe as people realized. Boyle said she received a variety of reactions ranging from individuals as surprised as she had been to those who were already aware of what was happening.

Boyle also contacted the Redmond Police Department (RPD) about the issue.

Julie Beard, a neighborhood resource officer for the department, said they have not been able to investigate the situation because a crime needs a victim and they have not spoken to the victim in this situation — Boyle’s student.

Beard said library staff walk around the library on a regular basis, but they will not confront patrons unless they observe a policy violation. If they observe criminal behavior such as an individual watching child pornography or forcing a minor to watch pornography, she said they will contact RPD.

When that happens, Beard said two officers will respond to the library, locate the victim to ask what happened. The officers will then observe to see if the suspect approaches other children.

“If a crime did occur, we would take enforcement action as needed,” she said.

LEGAL AND ILLEGAL MATERIAL

Following the incident with her student, Boyle looked more into the situation. Another area of concern for her was the type of material available to library patrons. She said she was surprised to learn that the library cannot withhold material from its patrons.

“They know it’s harmful but they have to make it available,” she said.

Julie Acteson, interim director for King County Library System (KCLS), which includes the Redmond Library, explained, “What people can view and read is protected by their First Amendment rights.”

Acteson said public libraries are public buildings and as a result, patrons represent the whole “span of humanity.” With such a varied population under one roof, she said they do all they can to make everyone feel welcome.

“Sometimes people do come across things that offend them,” Acteson acknowledged about the situation.

She added that the only type of material that is not allowed in the library is illegal material such as child pornography. Unfortunately, Acteson said just because someone is offended by certain material, does not mean it is illegal.

In addition, Acteson said all library computers are filtered, though adults can ask to have the filters removed. The same cannot be said for minors.

“If you’re under the age of 18, your information is filtered,” she said.

If a patron comes across another patron viewing something on the computer that makes them uncomfortable, they can go to library staff, who can ask the other individual to use a privacy screen. However, Acteson said, people are not required to use one.

COMMUNITY EFFORT

Acteson said KCLS works closely with their communities and police departments to address such issues to make sure they are doing all they can within KCLS policy.

Melissa Munn, community conduct coordinator for KCLS, added that it is her job to bring library staff, local police and other community organizations to the table so they can strategize and figure out everyone’s roles and how they can respond to any given situation in a consistent manner.

“We just try to keep a good relationship with the community and with the law enforcement,” Munn said.

Both she and Acteson said they encourage patrons to notify library staff to report any illegal activity they might witness.

Beard agreed. She said even if the reported behavior is suspicious but not illegal, at least they will be aware of it.

While the incident prompted Boyle to take action at the Redmond Library, she said the issue itself is “about all libraries.” And even though she has since said “farewell” to public libraries, Boyle made it clear that she does not hold anything against the Redmond Library staff, who are just doing their jobs and what they can to help.

“I can’t say enough for the staff,” she said.

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