Suspensions increase at Pikes Peak Library District under new security protocols

Jan. 28—Instances of patrons being suspended from using Pikes Peak Library District services and programs topped pre-pandemic numbers last year.

Last year, there were 206 suspensions — a 24% increase over the 166 suspensions recorded in 2019.

Suspensions of library use and privileges do not equate to how many people were involved but rather the number of incidents that happened, said Michael Brantner, chief safety, security and community resources officer for the library system, which includes 15 branches, three mobile buses and an events building.

Brantner attributes the jump to better enforcement of the library system's code of conduct policy, which was revised in recent years.

"Staff are better able to recognize incidents and enforce the code as it should be enforced," he said.

After he took the job four years ago, Brantner led a department restructuring and modifications to the suspension and appeals process.

"Changes made have had a positive effect on safety, confidence of staff and relationships with patrons, as well as our relationships with law enforcement and prosecuting officials," he said.

Under the policy, library users are expected to respect staff, other visitors and library property, and obey laws and comply with requests from employees.

If patrons violate the policy, their right to check out materials or enter a library facility could be revoked, temporarily or permanently.

The policy lists disruptive behavior, harming others, using profanity or obscenity, sleeping on library property, having offensive body odor, not properly keeping track of children, bathing or washing clothes in restrooms, using drugs or alcohol at facilities, viewing or printing child pornography and other activities as being prohibited.

Longtime library user and military veteran Rick Schulte, who was restricted last month over an episode that occurred at the Sand Creek Library branch, believes the system is unfair.

Schulte said he was accused of assaulting an employee by slapping her hand and being unruly while talking with the woman about ratings on movies that can be checked out.

"I said this is not my house, this is your house, and anything that I do, I do as your guest, and I try to create no problems," Schulte said he told a security officer.

Schulte said he was notified that he would have to attend a seminar this month at the East Library about the code of conduct and his alleged violations.

His notice of suspension lists behavior or actions that are unsafe or disruptive to others, inappropriate use of library privileges or property, illegal behavior and noncompliance with staff.

"My response was I was not going to do it because the allegation that was given to me was that I assaulted this individual, and I said if I went to that seminar, I would be admitting guilt," he said. "I am absolutely innocent."

Police were not called about the alleged incident, Schulte said; the matter is only being handled internally.

"It's a helpless kind of situation that I have no recourse, and I would never admit to something I'm innocent of," he said.

Schulte has been banned indefinitely from library buildings, parking lots and entrances.

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Suspension meetings occur twice a month with the security manager and a social worker, according to the policy.

"I did not assault anyone and was not unruly," Schulte said. "Yet I am evicted from a common taxpayer service, on the basis of no evidence given. A restoration as described does not warrant the matter closed."

Any employee can ask patrons to leave for the day if they believe patrons are violating the conduct code, Brantner said. If unsuccessful, the case moves to suspension, he said.

But only security staff, managers, supervisors and other trained staff can suspend patrons.

Library security officers make thousands of contacts weekly with patrons at library buildings across El Paso County, Brantner said.

A violation doesn't immediately lead to a suspension, Brantner said, but will if "the patron is aggressive, violent, abusive verbally, disrespectful or other actions or behaviors that immediately create a situation that impairs the safety of other patrons and staff."

An appeals process is available, he said.

It's rare for patrons to be "eighty-sixed," or completely prohibited, from returning to using libraries, Brantner said, and usually involves the library district obtaining a permanent restraining order.

"Return is available for almost all patrons," he said. "Safety is always the priority in these conversations and considerations," he said.

The process takes longer in some cases than others, Brantner said, based on the person's actions, safety evaluations and agreement that the suspended person will abide by the policy.

Since the changes took effect in 2019, Brantner said recidivism by suspended patrons decreased from about 90% to less than 5%.

During the pandemic, suspensions dropped to 115 in 2020 and 121 in 2021, according to data.

Of the 206 suspensions in 2022, 71%, or 146 of the cases, originated at the Penrose Library in downtown Colorado Springs, Brantner said

When the weather turns cold, Penrose Library becomes a go-to spot for homeless people to hang out, including a man who gave his name as Sam.

Incidents happen several times a week at the downtown branch, he said last week, while sitting at a table at the downtown library.

For the past four years, he heads inside to the library whenever it's unbearably cold outside, which he said lately has been a lot.

"You aren't supposed to sleep in here. They give you three warnings, and then have you go outside," he said. "People should be suspended if they don't obey. If you act right, you're OK. But some people just don't get it."

Under the former head librarian, who resigned last year, the Penrose location added services for homeless people, such as outdoor water fountains and outside receptacles for storing large belongings while inside the library.

Brantner said since he took the job four years ago, he's focused on "building a professional, well-trained team that coordinates and supports all other areas of the library, focuses on supporting the organizational goals, works with law enforcement and the community to improve safety and focuses interactions on the code of conduct."

Sam said he was suspended a few years ago after a guy who had been drinking picked a fight with him in the restroom.

"Even though I didn't start it, I got suspended for a week," he said.