San Francisco Chronicle

Antioch library reopens — with guards

- By Jordan Parker Reach Jordan Parker: jordan.parker @sfchronicl­; Twitter: @jparkerwri­tes

The Antioch public library was relatively serene Thursday afternoon, two days after it reopened with armed security guards after the abrupt closure on Feb. 17 due to what county officials described as “dangerous incidents.”

“It’s been calmer,” said Antioch High School student Chris Currie, 15, who was sitting comfortabl­y in a chair near the back of the one-story 11,000square-foot library as an armed guard stood watch outside and another unarmed guard patrolled inside.

“At first it was kind of crazy because it’s a library,” he said. “What do you need an armed guard for? Are you going to steal books?”

Chris said that on a normal day, the library can get rowdy after both Antioch Middle School and Antioch High School, both across the street from the library, are dismissed for the day, which is around 2:35 p.m. He said 20 to 40 students will flood the building to socialize and wait for their parents. The presence of the security guards will “maybe” help lower crime, but will not affect the rowdiness seen on a daily basis, Chris said.

Contra Costa County officials announced Feb.

16 that they were closing the library the next day due to thefts, drug use and public sex in and around the facility at 501 West 18th St. in a residentia­l area and school zone. County officials said in their statement that the repeated incidents at the library “threatened the safety and security of patrons and staff.”

Incidents reported at the library included vandalism, items being set on fire, and threats to staff and security, according to Brooke Converse, a spokespers­on for the Contra Costa County Library system. The Antioch library is one of 26 community libraries in the county system.

Chris said he has been coming to the library after school every day for the past seven years, and it was usually peaceful until

about five years ago when it became rowdy. A man who identified himself only as Dave, 21, of Vallejo said he worked his first shift as a guard at the library Thursday.

“I was curious why they need guards here,” he said. “More things do happen though than you would expect. Apparently (there is) a lot of crazy stuff going on here with the kids, they’re back here trying to smoke weed and make out. They (the library) just want me to look out for that stuff, just stop any minor inconvenie­nces.”

Starting out in the back corner, Dave periodical­ly patrolled the interior, on the lookout for anything suspicious. Occasional­ly, he would stop and have a brief conversati­on with patrons inside the library.

The county’s sudden closure of the library upset Antioch Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe, who told the county that none of the city’s officials or residents had been given warning the closure was coming. “To say that I am shocked at the overnight closure of the library is an understate­ment, given that at no point were Antioch residents given warning of this possibilit­y,” Hernandez-Thorpe wrote in a letter Feb. 16 to Contra Costa County Administra­tor Monica Nino.

The incident is the latest public safety concern in the East Bay city. Its leaders, including Hernandez-Thorpe, are still dealing with the fallout from the Police Department’s racist text scandal, which prompted local and federal investigat­ions and was followed by the abrupt retirement of its police chief. Next week, a new interim police chief will take over the department as it looks to repair its damaged reputation within the community.

“I am even more concerned about the reasons for the library’s closing, specifical­ly safety concerns,” HernandezT­horpe said in the statement. “No one in the City of Antioch, including the police chief, was informed of any safety concerns by Contra Costa County regarding the library.”

Chris said he has seen several incidents at the library such as big fights in the parking lot and occurrence­s in the library bathrooms that he declined to specify. He also said his bike had been stolen from the library. Still, he expressed shock at the library’s need for security guards.

“If you really look at it, there’s not that much that goes on other than ordinary life you would see everywhere else in the city, especially this side of Antioch,” he said. “One, two security guards versus 30 kids. It doesn’t matter how many guards you put over here, it’s not going to change.”

The library reopened Tuesday after obtaining an “emergency contract” for private armed security and a patrol car that sits in the parking lot and on library property. The guard assigned to patrol the inside of the library is unarmed, while the armed guard stands outside, according to Dave.

Mahasin Abuwi Aleem has been the library’s manager since September 2022 and said in the past six months the library has had “over a dozen” calls to the police for “frequent” incidents, which include illegal drug use, people experienci­ng mental health crises and public sex. However, she said that she believes the issues stem from all of the challenges that urban communitie­s face.

“I think that libraries across America are on the front lines of all our social challenges,” she said. “I think having security to make patrons and staff feel safe is increasing­ly common in public libraries and is not unique. I am grateful that our concerns have been taken seriously. And I’m glad to continue the work that we do, which is supporting literacy, supporting families (and) supporting our youth.”

Abuwi Aleem expressed hope that residents wouldn’t be deterred from coming back to the library after the recent hiccups.

“The library is investing $30,000 a month in security measures here,” she said. “I would love for people to come and see all the wonderful programs we have. We’d love for our community to show how much they’re invested and committed to the library. I want people to know that the library is here for them. We’re here for everyone. The Antioch motto is, ‘Opportunit­y lives here.’ I think it’s true. I think opportunit­y lives at the Antioch library.”

 ?? Google Street View ?? Incidents at the Antioch Public Library included vandalism, items being set on fire and threats to staff.
Google Street View Incidents at the Antioch Public Library included vandalism, items being set on fire and threats to staff.

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