Frequent disturbances, rowdy behavior and even reports of sex in the stairwell spurred Omaha police to ask library officials Wednesday to clean up the downtown library.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Capt. Katherine Belcastro-Gonzalez told the Omaha Public Library Board that the branch is draining police resources.

Several board members agreed that there is a problem at the W. Dale Clark Library and two said they have felt intimidated by people at the location.

The board took no formal action but asked staffers to work with police to make a plan to fix the problems.

In the past year or so, Belcastro-Gonzalez said, the Police Department has received about 200 calls to the main branch at 215 S. 15th St.

If every business did that, she said, “our police resources would be exhausted.”

Police officials said the problem appears to be groups of people — some of them homeless — who congregate in and around the library and cause frequent disturbances.

The officials said much of the problem would be solved if library staff better enforced the institution’s policies and rules.

“I believe there needs to be a culture change,” Belcastro-Gonzalez said.

Belcastro-Gonzalez cited two instances in which she said someone caused a disruption but was allowed back into the library. One was a sex offender who made an inappropriate comment about a child. The other was a person accused of theft.

She asked the board to enact a policy that would allow library officials to turn over footage from security cameras to police without requiring a subpoena. She also suggested searching patrons’ bags to make sure they don’t have weapons or open containers of alcohol.

The board also discussed the possibility of installing metal detectors.

Library staffers said they’ve been working with other entities to make the library less of a congregation point for disruptive people. Library staff would like to see a nearby bus stop moved down the block, and for the Open Door Mission stop dropping people off across the street at the Gene Leahy Mall.

Board members said they’re open to changes, although they noted they want to make sure they are protecting patrons’ rights.

“How can we work together while making people feel safe?” board member Anna Hernandez-Valencia asked.

Board President Mike Meyer said he was especially concerned about reports that staffers felt uncomfortable working at the branch.

“I think it’s really, really important that our staff as well as our patrons feel secure,” he said.

Board member Lenora Isom noted that rowdy people congregating outside the library isn’t just a problem for the institution, but also for the entire downtown area.

“I think it’s an issue for Omaha,” she said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1084, roseann.moring@owh.com

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