WESTBROOK — The city is looking to upgrade the security cameras at Walker Memorial Library to better ward off sexually inappropriate behavior there.

According to Police Chief Janine Roberts, people have been engaging in “sexually deviant behavior” at the library. This has included physical behavior as well as use of computers to access sexually explicit material.

“Unfortunately, the actions of some people are making the staff and other people uncomfortable,” Roberts said.

The library already has some cameras, but new digital cameras would provide increased security in more areas. The 11 new cameras, which would replace the current analog models, would show higher-quality images. They would be placed in the gathering room, the local history room, the maker-space/youth activity room, the second floor lobby, the adult services room and several outdoor locations.

The City Council on Dec. 4 voted 5-0 at first reading to approve the purchase of the cameras, with councilors Brendan Rielly and Gary Rairdon absent.

The low bidder for the project was Cunningham Security at $7,722, which was $10,000 less than the library’s current security provider, Advance Technology.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the library has had cameras for many years, but that it needs more since the staff can’t monitor all library patrons.

“We have a diverse population who use the library and we can’t physically staff every room because the cost would be excessive so we rely on technology,” he said.

Library Director Rebecca Albert said she hopes the new cameras will cut down on inappropriate behavior.

“It’s a deterrent for bad behavior and theft,” she said. “It’s security for the staff and the public.”

Albert would not say exactly what people are doing at the library that is inappropriate.

“I’d rather not say specifically, but it’s inappropriate for a public space, particularly in a space where children are,” she said. “I don’t want to say anything too explicit.”

At first, Roberts wouldn’t say either.

“If you can’t infer what the library director and city administrator are not specifically saying, I’m not going to step in there,” she said.

When pressed, she said there have been instances of “sexually inappropriate behavior.” She said this has included behavior between two people, indecent exposure, and use of computers to access sexually explicit material, but police reports don’t specify exactly what type of behavior people are engaging in.

“It’s not frequent, however, it only takes one incident to affect the staff and other library patrons,” Roberts said.

Albert said when library staff notice or are made aware of inappropriate behavior, they intervene if appropriate. If the situation is more serious, they call the police. She said the police are called about once every other month.

Roberts said people have been arrested at the library, but that most people who are engaging in sexual behavior flee before police arrive. She said it’s up to library staff or other witnesses to file a police complaint.

Most of the criminal activity happening at the library is theft, but the sexually inappropriate behavior is usually people viewing pornography.

“Like any library in the country, we’ve had instances of inappropriate computer use,” Albert said.

Roberts said while that isn’t illegal, it’s not appropriate and makes other people in the library very uncomfortable.

“I don’t know if watching pornography on a public computer is against the law, but it certainly doesn’t comply with library rules,” she said.

Albert said the library’s Wi-Fi has content blockers, but that people sometimes find ways around it. Other times people bring in personal laptops with images and videos already downloaded on them.

According to Albert, people have been temporarily banned from the library and the length of banishment depends on the severity of their action. She said only one person is banned right now, for theft, and that person cannot return for eight more months.

The City Council is expected to approve the security upgrades at second reading at its next meeting.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

See this story in Keep Me Current.