The San Diego Central Library is an $185 million gem. Located a few blocks from Petco Park in the city’s East Village, its silhouette makes an impressive figure in the downtown skyline.
But under its domed roof, employees and customers regularly witness unruly behavior, drug use and mental health emergencies.
Data shows that calls to the police from the library occur, on average, once a day. Up to nine security guards, some armed, clock in daily – all are trained to administer naloxone, an emergency drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
On Tuesday, Trey Walker, 20, was fatally shot when an altercation that started in the library lobby spilled over into the courtyard. A 24-year-old man was injured.
Walker was a new dad, his mother said this week. Her daughter is 10 months old.
“He’s a very caring and lovely young man,” Shelly Jamison said of her son. “He was becoming a father, trying to find his way in the world.”
Since May 2018, more than 1,800 calls for police service have been recorded at the library, according to police data, reporting a wide range of incidents including drug overdoses, robberies, assaults and people allegedly carrying concealed weapons.
There have been over 170 calls so far this year. There were 309 calls made in the last year.
In December, library officials said there had been 36 overdose incidents on the property since July 2019. It’s unclear how many have been fatal. There were 263 reported incidents of illegal drug use or possession during this time.
‘We’ve had an increasing number of incidents with overdoses, encampments (of homeless people) around the building, fights and thefts,’ city librarian Misty Jones told the budget committee. of the city council last year. “There are a lot of mental illnesses and addictions, and the issues that come with that.”
After last week’s fatal shooting, the library closed for several days. Library officials were not immediately able to comment on security issues at the site, in part because they were still processing the trauma of the incident, city officials said.
Patrick Stewart, CEO of The Library Foundation, which supports and raises funds for library programs and services, wrote a blog post on the organization’s website in response to the shooting.
“We are still handling this incident internally and will be for some time,” he wrote. “We feel deeply for those most affected – the young man whose life was tragically lost and his family, the injured young man, library and library staff who witnessed this horrific act, and patrons who use the library to enrich their lives.
“While it’s invigorating, for those who have paid attention, it’s unfortunately not completely surprising.”
Library workers now routinely witness or deal with reports of unruly behavior, thefts, drug use and overdoses, he wrote. Mental health crises that pose a danger to others in the library are more common than ever, and library staff have responded to two suicides and multiple attempts in recent years.
Stewart said library staff had been trained to defuse tense situations and learned how to administer naloxone. The city has increased the number of security guards by two since September. The cost of security at the Central Library and other neighborhood branches has nearly exceeded what the library spends on books, online resources and other materials, Stewart wrote.
The city has a five-year, $29 million contract with a security guard service, but it’s unclear how much of that goes specifically to libraries.
Library staff plan to put new security measures in place to make visitors and staff members safer, Stewart said. But he stressed in the post: “The seriousness of our troubled social environment that led to Tuesday’s tragedy is not the library’s problem to solve on its own.”
San Diego Police Lt. Ryan Hallahan oversees the department’s Central Division, which encompasses downtown. He said his officers stepped up enforcement around the library in January after hearing from people concerned about the safety of children attending e3 Civic High, located inside the library.
“These kids were seeing homeless people using drugs, saying and doing inappropriate things that kids don’t need to see,” he said. “We started specifically applying areas where children were walking.”
These efforts are reflected, in some respects, in the data provided by the department. The term “service call” is used in several different ways – not all of them imply an actual call. This may be someone who calls 911 after witnessing an incident. But it can also mean that someone has asked an officer for help, or that officers have chosen to investigate a situation based on something they observed.
Over the past five years, selective application calls have accounted for about 20% of the total calls recorded at the library, according to the data. This type of call can refer to a few different activities. This may mean that an area has been visited by the department’s homeless outreach teams. It can also be used when officers are doing more proactive policing work in an area.
Calls for selective application to the library have increased in recent years. In 2021, there were 36. So far this year, there have been 73.
Hallahan added that with the department’s continued staff shortages – the agency has lost around 200 officers – they are not always able to do as much proactive enforcement as they would like.
That sentiment was echoed by Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, who said proactive police work was down citywide.
“The Central Library is a tragic example of a beautiful facility overrun with crime,” Wilson said last week.
Police officials have attributed many calls to the library to homeless people congregating in and around the library. On a typical day, most people who visit the library are homeless, library officials said last year — a phenomenon fueled in part by an overall decline in visits to libraries nationwide and a growing population of homeless people in San Diego.
The library offers many services to homeless patrons, including a veterans resource center staffed by people helping the homeless and two other offices: one staffed by an outreach worker from the National Alliance for mental illness and the other a part-time social worker.
But not all library problems can be attributed to roaming.
Neither Walker nor the man suspected of shooting him, Kenneth Chaney, were homeless, police said.
Investigators determined the altercation occurred at the entrance to the library when a group of people, including the two victims, confronted Chaney about a stolen backpack. During the fight, Chaney pulled out a gun and fired.
In a GoFundme that was started to help with funeral costs, Walker’s family described him as the life of the party — an outgoing person who loved to make people laugh.
“All Trey wanted was for everyone he knew to get along and bring happiness and joy to each other,” the fundraising page reads.
Although Walker was not homeless, he was no stranger to this life. Jamison, Walker’s mother, said their family went through periods of homelessness as her son grew up. After his death, a makeshift memorial was erected next to the library. Candles and cardboard notes were interspersed with seashells along the sidewalk.
“He was one of the most caring people in the world,” Jamison said.
Chaney was arrested Thursday afternoon near University Avenue and Interstate 15, police said. He was incarcerated on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and assault with a firearm. Chaney is being held without bail and could be arraigned as soon as Tuesday, according to prison records.
California Daily Newspapers