Patrons seek library security report Rview followed rape of teen-ager

July 05, 1996|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

In the wake of a teen-ager's rape near Howard County Central Library in the spring, police and library officials reviewed the library's security situation. But three months later, officials still 44 are refusing to reveal the results of that review and whether changes recommended by police have been adopted by the library.

"The library may or may not do some things as suggested in the report. And if we make [the recommendations] public, we would alert the bad guys," County Executive Charles I. Ecker explained this week.

Library officials are concerned that releasing review information would tip off criminals to the library's possible security weaknesses. But many parents, PTA leaders and library patrons say the concern is misguided.

Instead, they say, the library system's top priority should be alleviating lingering fears among the 204,620 registered patrons of the library -- more than 90 percent of the county's population.

"It would be nice to know what [the report] discovered," said Sherry Martin, a resident of Columbia's Oakland Mills village, who frequents the central library with her two young children. "I'm always concerned for my children's safety and my own."

After the March rape of a 15-year-old Columbia girl who had been left alone with her sister outside the library after it closed, library officials publicly declared that the incident was "a community" problem -- not a library one.

Despite repeated requests from The Sun since the rape, they have declined to comment on the subsequent security survey by county police.

Library director Norma L. Hill refused to comment this week on the security survey.

Hill did acknowledge that library officials have decided not to change their long-standing policy regarding minors who are at branches at closing time.

The policy calls for county police to be called to the library if children are at one of the branches 15 minutes after closing and if they are middle-school-age or younger.

That policy, established in the 1980s, apparently was in effect at the time of the March rape. Workers at the central library in the 10300 block of Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia's Town Center did not call police to watch the 15-year-old high-school girl and her 7-year-old sister as they waited for their mother after library hours.

Under the policy, police regard middle-school-age or younger children left unattended at library closing times as "a stranded motorist" and take them home, said Sgt. David Richards, a county police spokesman.

But few library patrons seem to know that the policy on library security exists -- in large part because library officials have not publicized it more widely.

"There's something wrong for them to not share what their policies are," said Lisa Emmerling, a member of Worthington Elementary School's PTA. "It would be to their advantage to let us know."

Library users and PTA officials who agree with the policy question the lack of public notice about it. If parents were informed of the policy, they say, they might decide to stop leaving children unattended after library hours.

Barbara Kendrick, PTA president for Elkridge Elementary School, said the policy "is excellent, but it's unfortunate that the public hasn't been made aware of it."

Virginia Charles, president of the county's PTA Council, said, "It would be helpful if they had a sign posted in the library."

After the rape, the county Board of Library Trustees discussed a number of suggestions pertaining to the issue of unattended children before deciding to follow the original policy, a board member says.

"It's a tough situation because the library isn't responsible for children," said David Barrett, vice president of the library's trustee board. "If the mall closed, parents wouldn't expect employees to watch over their children. The library is still a business," he said.

One idea that the board considered was having a library employee wait with children who were not picked up after closing hours and charging the parents a baby-sitting fee, he said.

But the idea was deemed impractical, Barrett said. The board and library administration chose to keep the original policy.

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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