The Board of Trustees for the Cleveland Public Library voted Tuesday to purchase enough stun guns to arm the safety and protective services (SPS) personnel across the library system's 27 branches.
The board's finance committee voted to pay upwards of $26,000 to Blue Line Training and Consulting LLC for the PhaZZer ® brand stun guns and for professional training in their usage.
In a statement, the library told Scene that the safety of staff and patrons was a top priority for CPL, and that the purchase of the "PhaZZers" was in response to concerns expressed by the library's union partners: SEIU District 1199, which represents librarians, clerks, custodians and other frontline staff; and Laborers International Union of North America Local 860, which represents safety and professional service (SPS) workers.
"As part of discussions and the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with Local 860, the Library is hiring additional guards, providing additional tools for managing incidents, and providing additional training to SPS officers," the library said.
The statement also noted that as part of the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy (OPOTA) certification, which is a prerequisite for new library security guards, officers will receive "extensive training" in de-escalation techniques. The current Phazzer purchase contract will include a training component as well.
Colin Sikon, a Field Representative for Local 860, confirmed that equipment upgrades were part of the collective bargaining agreement, which he said had been ratified unanimously by roughly 35 union members who worked at library branches earlier this year. Sikon said with new hires, there will be close to 50 library SPS officers in the union.
Sikon said that in light of recent security issues at library branches, additional "tools" were necessary for SPS officers, and that the Phazzers had been carefully selected based on extensive research.
"The big difference between a PhaZZer and a taser is that a PhaZZer has never killed someone," he said. "We know that there's no such thing as a nonlethal weapon. It's just less
lethal. But we wanted the safest less lethal weapon on the market, and we wanted it to come with the best instruction. We want to make sure that the employees in charge of safety know these tools inside and out."
Sikon said that right now, library SPS officers are only equipped with pepper spray and that their members felt they had to be more prepared for shootings and other potentially violent incidents. He said that there had been a good showing of solidarity by their union brothers and sisters at SEIU 1199, even though he allowed a good percentage were against bringing weapons into the library.
When SEIU 1199 threatened to go on strike late last year
, one of the chief concerns was library safety, due to low staffing levels. But some members maintain that when they asked for better security and a safer library environment, they didn't mean armed guards.
The library told Scene that it will continue to call on the Cleveland Police Department to handle "serious criminal offenses" that occur at CPL branches.
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