A favorite target of thieves at the Central Library is this fairly remote… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)
The Central Library is an L.A. icon and an oasis for readers in the city.
But the Los Angeles Police Department says the library has earned a dubious distinction: It had more thefts last year of personal property -- excluding shoplifting -- than any location in central Los Angeles. There's a growing feeling that there is not enough security at the library -- and too many isolated sections where criminals can operate without detection.
LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said there were 31 theft reports filed last year, including wallets, purses, bicycles, laptops and other electronic equipment. So far this year, there have been eight reported thefts -- on pace to surpass last year's total.
To put it in perspective, the leading location for stolen items in the LAPD's Central Division was Macy's, with 94 shoplifting reports, all resulting in arrests. No arrests have been made in the library thefts this year or last, Vernon said.
"People need to be more aware of their surroundings and not to be naive to crime," Vernon said. "It's easy to get lost in thought at the library and leave your belongings behind. What people don't realize, there's someone watching and waiting for you to walk away."
Most of the thefts have been reported between noon and 6 p.m. and probably involve habitual drug users looking for items that can easily be cashed in as a means of buying drugs, police said. A favorite target of thieves is the fairly remote history department in Lower Level 4.
Library spokesman Peter V. Persic said Wednesday that the library faces challenges in monitoring a building that is half a million square feet and used by 7,000 people each day.
"I don't think there's another facility downtown -- or anywhere else in the city -- that is that large and has that many people coming through on a daily basis," he said.
Library user Alvin Thompson said he sometimes sees people walk away from their belongings to go to the bathroom or get a drink and doesn't understand it. He said the library's proximity to skid row brings in many people who are just looking for an opportunity to take something that doesn't belong to them and sell it for "a little bit of nothing."
Thompson said he bumped into a man Wednesday who told him: "Somebody is going to donate a computer to me today."
"Donating meant he was going to take it," Thompson said.
Although the library has security cameras, Vernon said, "they do not record and are rarely monitored." Police are working with the library to address the issue.
Cmdr. Andy Smith, who until recently was a supervisor over Central Division, said personal thefts have long been a problem at the Central Library and got so bad at one point that officers were told to walk foot beats through the facility.
"It's complicated. You have people who have come there to do research and bring laptops, BlackBerrys, purses and other valuables," Smith said. "Meanwhile, you have an army of opportunists with nothing but time on their hands looking to steal to support their drug or alcohol addiction."