New Charlotte Library CCTV System Helping to Catch Indecent Acts and Exposure, Vandalism

The main branch of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County has had at least five reports of people engaged in sexual activity amid the bookshelves or bathroom stalls there this year.

Some involved minors, according to police records and library officials. The reports ranged from a 16-year-old boy being fondled in August by a stranger in a bathroom to a couple engaged in a sex act in the library's Carolinas history room.

"We had, in fact, several incidents of various activities that were in some way, shall we say, not proper for a library," said Rita Rouse, a library spokeswoman.

Library officials said they were not aware of similar problems at the 22 other libraries in the public system.

But staff at the main library at 310 N. Tryon St. are using video cameras to try to stem the recent rash of problems that also included vandalism and graffiti, library officials told the Observer on Thursday.

"We are one of the few open and welcoming buildings in uptown Charlotte and there are unfortunately people who at times make inappropriate use of the building," said Charles Brown, the system's director. "We're trying in every way possible to take steps to eliminate these acts from the library."

Three weeks ago, library staff increased the number of video cameras in the building from seven to 13, Rouse said, for a cost of about $13,800.

Now, cameras are positioned in more remote locations, including the public restrooms where some of the incidents occurred. But Rouse said cameras won't show what goes on in a bathroom stall, which would violate people's privacy. Instead, they record all comings and goings from the restrooms, she said.

So far, it seems to be helping, Rouse said.

Before adding the new cameras, the library had 32 incidents of various types reported between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15, she said.

In the three weeks since the cameras were added, the number dropped to five, she said.

However, as recently as Tuesday, a man and a woman were caught engaged in sexual activity in a women's bathroom.

Also, all libraries in the system have at least one security officer on duty, Rouse said. At times the main branch may have as many as three, she said. They make rounds throughout the building every 30 minutes, she said.

However, even with the security guards and the additional cameras, she urged parents to watch over their children.

"It's important for all caregivers, including parents, to stay with their child," she said. "Children are parents' responsibility."

She also urged anyone who sees inappropriate activities to contact library staff immediately. Staff should call 911 with problems, she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police already have been called to the main library 109 times this year for various incidents, police records show. Last year, they were called there 136 times, records show.

But not all calls come through the police department, because the library has its own security staff, police said.

The library also handles some of the incidents with its own punishments. For example, the libraries can ban from all branches those who don't follow the rules, Rouse said.

In the case of the stranger fondling the 16-year-old boy, library staff said they worked with police. The case has not yet been prosecuted.