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Madison libraries see spike in police calls since 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Officials attribute a more than 50% jump since 2014 in calls for police help at Madison's libraries to badly behaving youths and the opioid epidemic.

The Wisconsin State Journal requested data on police calls to Madison libraries from 2014 through 2018 following a fight involving police and middle-school-age children at the Lakeview branch library last month. The disturbance drew attention from some in the community who questioned whether police responded too aggressively, while others condemned the children's behavior.

The data shows that the Goodman South Madison branch on the city's south side saw 524 calls during those five years, which is the most out of any of the neighborhood libraries. The Meadowridge branch saw the second highest number of calls, at 348, while the Hawthorne branch on the city's east side saw 236.

Ching Wong, the Goodman South branch supervisor, said the library often calls police to respond to adults who may be homeless or intoxicated. Four of the last nine police calls to the library were for adults who were intoxicated, including one who appeared to have overdosed, according to incident reports.

Wong said the issues with young patrons usually involve their tendency to be loud or use inappropriate language, which staff can handle.

"If a fight breaks out, we're not supposed to engage," Wong said.

Madison police officer Tom Coyne said the library's proximity to a bus station and a McDonald's seems to be associated with the high number of calls for disturbances, trespassing and unwanted persons.

Meadowridge has seen a steep jump in police calls, from just 16 in 2014 to 119 last year.

Supervisor Terrance Newell said most staff calls to police over the last few months have involved youth running around, throwing books, ignoring warnings and other disruptive behaviors.

The city's library system officials have been meeting with the Northside Planning Council, Warner Park officials, Madison public school leaders and others to identify gaps in how staff members respond to disruptive patrons, said Greg Mickells, the system's director.

Mickells said the discussions started in the wake of the incident at the Lakeview library last month. He said there's an interest in creating a consistent response to places where teens gather, such as libraries, schools or neighborhood centers.

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