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Surveillance in your local library: are security systems necessary to protect your patrons?

Bay Area news services have reported a recent assault on a patron of San Jose State University Library. The patron managed to fight off her attacker soon after he attempted to restrain her in a women’s restroom, and the library staff have taken steps to move shelves and screens away from the bathroom entrance, citing a lack of visibility as a major contributor to the opportunity for crime.

The 56-year-old woman was washing her hands in a second-floor restroom around 9pm, when a man leapt out from his hiding place in one of the stalls and tried to grab her, said San Jose SU campus spokeswoman Pat Lopes Harris. The woman screamed for help and was quickly aided by another library patron, who helped her to fight off the attacker. Although he fled, the attacker was apprehended by security personnel patrolling the library before he could manage to escape the building.

Police brought suspect, who hasn’t been identified in the Media, into Santa Clara County Jail on suspicion of a string of charges including battery and assault, false imprisonment, probation violation, disorderly conduct inside a restroom, and resisting arrest. University officials said that neither the woman nor the patron who came to her aid were hurt.

Senior library and university staff are deeply concerned about the incident, and are consequently taking measures to prevent crimes from being carried out in the campus library in future. They consider a lack of visibility around the entrance to the washroom to be a major contribution to the circumstances that allowed the assault to occur. Library staff have begun to address the issue by moving two large bookshelves and a metal screen away from the area, and are reviewing library security systems currently in place.

It is not known whether the prosecutor in this case will have access to security footage to help bring the offender to justice and prevent him from reoffending, but given that staff explicitly mentioned the need to clear infrastructure out of the way, it is suspected that none of the library’s security cameras had a useful view of the location.

Security cameras are a staple of the security systems installed in most libraries and other state and private institutions. Though it may be argued that their most useful and frequent function is to be a visible presence of security measures and thus discourage crime before it can be perpetrated, they are nonetheless indispensable when it comes to prosecuting cases like this.

A thorough and expertly planned network of video security cameras is just a crucial an investment for large public spaces as it is for small retail business, and it is regretful that in this case cameras were incorrectly installed or perhaps not placed at all. Thankfully the library’s security system included personnel who were able to physically remand the attacker, but most libraries are too small to budget for that kind of security system. For these enterprises, a well-chosen video surveillance system is an efficient way to combat crime and ensure staff safety.

To read more about the San Jose State University news story, visit KRON 4's page.