YK library gets security after incident 'shocks' witnesses

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Yellowknife's public library now has a full-time security presence after an incident late last year caused $800 in damage and stunned library users.

Presenting to city councillors on Monday, library manager John Mutford said the "violent incident ... left many witnesses shocked and triggered formal concerns about staff safety."

The exact nature of the incident was not described.

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Mutford said one consequence was security services have now been hired “for the foreseeable future,” with a guard in place for all opening hours.

Other measures being introduced include an increased municipal enforcement presence, more security cameras, and earlier closing times on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (6pm from January 29).

Additional security began in mid-January.

The City of Yellowknife's senior administrative officer, Sheila Bassi-Kellett, said strengthened security was intended as a temporary response.

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"The immediate blast of heightened security is something we are intending to do not for the rest of the year, but for a period of time to help encourage new and better behaviour," said Bassi-Kellett.

Funding is coming from within the library's budget, but the City is looking at ways to move money so as not to leave the library "high and dry," Bassi-Kellett added.

"We have had people thank us when they have seen security officers in there, saying they feel safer," Mutford told councillors.

Security staff have training and authority "to use physical force if necessary," he continued, but would call RCMP for serious matters.

"We wanted to ensure there is an immediate presence that makes it known we are watching for the safety of patrons and staff," said Bassi-Kellett. "They are being visible in the library itself."

'Recurring faces'

Safety at the library, based in the downtown Centre Square Mall around which public intoxication is commonplace, has long been a concern for staff and visitors.

There were 153 smaller-scale incidents such as theft, vandalism, open alcohol, intoxication, the selling of drugs, and public urination reported in 2018.

Between December 2017 and December 2018, 165 bans for more serious offences – like abuse or threats toward staff and patrons, or fighting – were handed out.

Bans range from one month to two years in length, and are now being increased.

Mutford said while new measures have only just been introduced, "some of those recurring faces are not there any more."

Bassi-Kellett told councillors the library has been tracking incidents and will be able to report to the public on the success of new measures in the future.

Meanwhile, the library is trying to provide more – and more welcoming – programming.

Coming soon to the library are more therapy dog programs, adjustments to improve its physical environment, and a drive to recruit more local volunteer groups to help with programs.

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