Most assaults at Millennium Library don't involve weapons, internal records show
Among 27 assaults logged between January 2018 and March 2019, 1 involved a weapon
Security reports at Millennium Library suggest patrons and staff are more likely to be hurt by someone without a weapon than with a weapon, according to a review by CBC News.
Reports generated by library staff show the vast majority of incidents classified as assaults involve physical contact like shoving, punching or hitting rather than assaults with objects like knives, scissors and box cutters — all items that have been seized since the library instituted a new airport-like security checkpoint.
The City of Winnipeg provided CBC with a total of 27 security incidents logged as assaults at the downtown library between January 2018 and the end of March 2019. CBC found only one instance in the highly redacted reports when a weapon was used in an assault.
"That doesn't surprise me because the security screening measures are completely arbitrary," said Paisley Cozzarin, a member of the Winnipeg Public Library Board and critic of new security screening process brought in Feb. 25, 2019.
Library Services says the checkpoint installed on Feb. 25 is in response to an escalation in the number and seriousness of violent incidents and threats at the library over the past four or five years.
A small knife drawn
The single assault with a weapon between January 2018 and March 2019 appears to be when a small knife was drawn by a woman already banned from the library.
The woman, reported to be drunk, was asked to leave after she was discovered on the fourth floor of Millennium. Apparently angry she was forced to leave, the woman tried to steal books, spat at staff, tried to hit staff and threw a cup of alcohol at a security guard before brandishing her knife.
When a security guard left to go call police, the woman put the knife away and left the library, heading toward Smith Street, the internal report said.
The vast majority of other assaults played out between patrons, often in bathrooms or near the computers, and involved direct physical contact such as when two men fought in the washroom in December, leaving a man with a bloody eye, and when a man was randomly slapped in the face by a girl outside the library last July, an incident that was captured on surveillance video.
It's just security theatre. It's just the illusion of safety.- Paisley Cozzarin, Winnipeg Public Library Board member
The internal reports do show everyday items are sometimes weaponized. A coffee, for instance, was thrown at a man's face in October last year, a nearly full can of Coke chucked at a woman's back in the library's lobby in December and a backpack hurled at random person outside the library in November.
Winnipeg police data on assaults reported inside the library show little change over time in the number of calls for service in response to alleged assaults; however, data provided by police show the number of assaults that led to charges did rise, starkly, in 2019. The data did not break down how many of the assaults involved weapons.
Every year, Millennium Library receives about a million visitors, according to the City of Winnipeg.
For Cozzarin, the statistics show the security checkpoint, which takes away sharp objects, alcohol and needles from patrons, will do little to address violence at the library.
"It's just security theatre. It's just the illusion of safety," said Cozzarin.
Cozzarin believes greater social supports for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, at the library and across Winnipeg, would do more to address safety at the library than a checkpoint.
'Something was going to occur,' says union
Gord Delbridge President, Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, said he believes the security measures make his members safer and believes library users feel safer with the new checkpoint in place.
"I think that if we didn't take action and there wasn't screening in place, eventually something was going to occur," said Delbridge.
"The incidents have significantly dropped. We know the amount of times police are being called to the library has significantly been reduced. So, I think that … the proof is in the pudding. It's showing that it is actually effective."
Delbridge cited a statement by Sgt. Christine Kun, the supervisor for the downtown foot patrol, who spoke at the community services committee May 22 and said police are not responding to violent calls as frequently since the security checkpoint was installed.
"I don't know what the rationale is and why it has reduced the amount of incidents as a result of having that screening but, I mean, ultimately, we know it's effective and it is working," said Delbridge.
In his four years as president, Delibridge is not aware of any library employee being the victim of serious bodily injury but said employees have suffered harms.
"I think there have been injuries," said Delbridge. "I mean, we know that there are many members suffering from PTSD. And that's a concern. There's a lot of stress when you're working in an environment where there are a lot of near misses."
CBC found one case in the assault reports where an employee appeared to have been injured. A worker said a man lunged and backhanded the employee across the left temple. It's unclear whether the worker was represented by CUPE or was a private security guard.
"I took several steps and became dizzy and fell near the reader services desk skinning my right elbow. Several other patrons nearby jeered at my mishap," the employee wrote in the security report on Feb. 3, 2018.
Weapons appear in some 'near misses'
Over the same period as the assaults, from January 2018 to the end of March 2019, two incidents classified as "near misses" involved weapons.
In one case, three men and a woman were intoxicated in a stairwell when a person pulled out a "kitchen knife," the security guard said in a report to police. All exited the library before officers could arrive, the security report said.
In another case, in October 2018, a man stumbled in the stairwell and told staff he had trouble breathing before passing out. When he rolled over, the security report said staff found a metal pipe on him.
Later, the man reportedly told members of the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service he tried to hang himself with a shoelace.
Crews found a metal switchblade, a pair of hunting arrow tips taped to a pair of pens, a flip razor blade, fragments of pills and a rusted collapsible baton on the man.
"He then left with the EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) bound for HSC (Health Sciences Centre)," the report said.
Among all the incidents — both "near misses" and "assaults" — there were two instances where needles were found. In one case, a woman threatened to inject herself. In another, an almost-empty needle was found near a woman who was moaning and in distress.
The City of Winnipeg says it has confiscated sharp objects including pocket knives, box cutters and scissors as well as "larger metal items" and hundreds of needles since it began searching bags in February.