By Bob Seidenberg
In an apparent rebuke to the off-duty officer who drew his gun on a homeless man in the Evanston Public Library earlier this month, the top library official said there’s no exception to the prohibition against firearms for anyone working there as a safety monitor.
Evanston Public Library policy prohibits the carrying of firearms, said interim Executive Library Director Heather Norborg in a statement delivered at the start of the Jan. 18 library board meeting.
Interim Executive Library Director Heather Norborg said there are no exceptions to the firearms prohibition in the library for safety officials. Credit: Screenshot of Evanston Library Board meeting
The statement came in the wake of a Jan. 9 incident at the main public library, 1703 Orrington Ave., in which an off-duty officer drew his gun while allegedly being beaten by a man identified as Milton D. Altamirano-Sanchez of Chicago. The officer has not been publicly identified.
The incident has stirred widespread debate in the community. During public comment at the board meeting, one speaker questioned the use of an armed security guard without the public knowing.
“I don’t think de-escalation and firearms are copacetic in any way,” said Jarrett Dapier, a former librarian in Evanston, and University of Illinois library information instructor, whose most recent research deals with policing and libraries.
Providing an update on the incident, Norborg said one of the library’s safety monitors responded to a patron who was lying on the floor, and at that person’s request called for medical help.
“The situation quickly escalated,” she said, “and the patron began punching and kicking our safety monitor, who identified himself as an off-duty police officer, and when the conflict continued, drew his off-duty firearm.”
“Evanston police arrived at the library and arrested the patron,” she said. “Several staff and members of the public witnessed the incident and I acknowledge that it was very serious and distressing for all.”
Norborg said in her statement that library officials are working with the city’s Human Resources department to follow its processes for reviewing the specifics of the incident, and that she could not comment further on the personnel aspects of the matter.
“However,” she said, “I would like to publicly affirm that the Evanston Public Library Board policy prohibits the carrying of any weapons, including any concealed or partially concealed, in library buildings or on library property, and also that City of Evanston, and by extension Evanston Public Library, employee policy prohibits possession of firearms and dangerous weapons at any time and anywhere while performing … city work.” Norborg said the only exceptions to the city policy are for police officers on duty for police business and animal control officers dealing with a dangerous animal.
“And I would like to publicly clarify now that those exceptions will not apply to library staff who are working as safety monitors or in any other capacity, unless the library board in consultation with its legal counsel were to decide otherwise,” she stressed.
As of now and until further notice when any library employee is performing library work, “they will not be armed,” she declared.
The interim director also outlined other steps the library has taken since the incident to continue address safety and security at the library.
They included reviewing security protocols and working to schedule training on a more regular basis. She said the library is continuing to move forward on filling open positions, including its safety supervisor for whom hiring was already underway, as well as a social worker position that was previously staffed through a partnership with Ascension Saint Francis.
“While it’s impossible to say whether any one staff member might have changed the outcome of last week’s incident,” she said, “we know that these positions broadly are critical to proactively preventing issues in the future.”
Speakers: Library should quit using police officers
Jarrett Dapier, who worked at the Evanston Public Library for six years, and now teaches library information science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, urged the Evanston Library to no longer hire police or ex-police as safety staff.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several speakers expressed concern about the handling of the incident.
Dapier, who worked at the Evanston Public Library for six years and now teaches library information science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, encouraged Norborg to explain how “it came to be that a staff member was armed with a concealed firearm without the public knowing.”
“It’s very important that from the top down and through every department, there’ll be a compassionate, community-minded and justice-oriented approach to the public that visits the library,” he said. “And that means viewing the mom with three kids who witnessed this terrible, potentially violent event, certainly traumatizing event, as members of the community.”
“They’re members of the community, he’s a member of the community,” he said about the safety monitor, “but so is the man laying on the floor and … any person in crisis.”
“I would also strongly recommend and avoid hiring police or ex-police as safety staff,” he said.
“And that’s not something I say lightly,” he said. “It’s just typical that police are trained in three things, which is they can detain, they can disperse and disarm – and disarming can mean firing a weapon.”
Kirsten D’Aurelio, a Fourth Ward resident and parent of a school-aged child, said she has noticed a disturbing trend at libraries, recalling an incident six months ago at the Robert Crown library where a white librarian warned some black youths that she would call police in response to their not following library rules.
In this latest incident, “a Latinx man experiencing homelessness and mental health issues had a negative encounter with our library security guard had a gun drawn on him and was sent into the criminal justice system,” she observed.
“Eyewitness accounts speak about the security guard, questioning his patron’s pain and unnecessarily escalating that interaction – which is missing from some of the description that was given tonight of this incident,” she said.
Sarah Hines, a member of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots group fighting for more measures to protect the public from gun violence, also pressed for more details. She observed that “police violence is gun violence and whether that violence happens while on duty or off-duty is a very serious matter.”
Evanston Library trustees went right into their regular meeting following the public comments, with none addressing the Jan. 9 incident.