Downtown Olympia’s crime and nuisances aren’t limited to the sidewalks and alleys along Fourth Avenue.
The Olympia Timberland Library, considered a main hub for the homeless by the county, is another downtown hot spot for illegal activity, often with familiar faces.
The library at 313 Eighth Avenue SE is generating an increasing number of calls for service during the daytime. According to police data, there were 78 calls from the library in 2010. Three years later, there were 175.
As of June 24, the library had generated 149 calls to police so far in 2014. Common calls included trespassings, suspicious behavior, narcotics and disturbances.
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The higher number of service calls reflects the police department’s relationship with the library, police spokeswoman Laura Wohl said. Over the years, library staff members have been encouraged to call police for a wider range of circumstances, she said.
Crime at the library drove former employee Kristin West to resign in June after nearly 2 1/2 years on the job.
Library employees saw drug-dealing activity involving the same people over and over, West said, and felt powerless to stop it. They still pick up needles or clean up blood in the bathrooms, she said.
Staff members also routinely observed patrons who were drunk or watching child porn on computers, West said. Once, an employee found a small baggie of black tar heroin, she said.
“I was constantly questioning whether I was overreacting,” West said. “The majority of people don’t participate in these behaviors, but families are being punished.”
Safety is a priority for the library, which is building stronger relationships with police and the city, spokesman Jeff Kleingartner said. For example, he said, the library has revised its behavior expectations for patrons and extended security guard hours.
Another positive, he said, was the library’s designation in April as one of five drug-free zones downtown. The designation enhances penalties for felony drug-dealing offenses within 1,000 feet of the library.
Although the library is on pace to eclipse last year’s number of calls for service, Kleingartner said overall conditions at the library are improving.
“The security cameras have helped identify and trespass patrons who were dealing drugs on library property, and have helped to catch at least two bike thieves,” he wrote in an email.
“Patrons and staff have both commented that there is a difference since we made all the changes. They say it does feel better in the library.”
West agreed that installing door alarms and cameras helped improve security, but said the working environment was still too stressful to tolerate.
“I wasn’t in a position to do something about it,” she said, “so I left.”