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Police enforcement of library lending leaves 5 year-old in tears

By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN
January 3, 2012 -- Updated 2142 GMT (0542 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police stop by family's house to tell them to return their daughter's overdue library books
  • Hailey Benoit, who was standing beside her mom when the officer arrived, burst into tears
  • Charlton Public Library is cracking down on late fees, a spokeswoman said
  • The books, which included $100 in late fees, have since been returned

(CNN) -- A Massachusetts mom said police went too far when they paid her and her 5-year-old daughter a visit for failing to return their library books on time.

"She's 5; she didn't understand," said Shannon Benoit of her daughter, Hailey.

Police said Tuesday that an officer showed up last week at the Benoit's home in the town of Charlton to inform the family that the books were long overdue.

Hailey -- who was standing beside her mom when the officer arrived -- then burst into tears.

'Is that policeman going to arrest me?'" Benoit quoted her daughter to CNN affiliate WBZ-TV.

"I was scared," added Hailey.

The books, titled "How To Tie My Shoes" and "Eloise's Birthday," had been sitting on Hailey's bookshelf since April.

But a Charlton Public Library spokeswoman said that it wasn't just Hailey's overdue books that prompted the police intervention. She also noted $100 worth of late fees for overdue audio books checked out by Hailey's father, Tony Benoit.

"I asked the chief... 'When does something borrowed become stolen?" said Cheryl Hansen. "'The chief said, 'When it's overdue!""

Hansen said that despite a warning letter and library calls made to the family, the books had remained unreturned.

"We thought this would be a kinder way, a friendly reminder saying 'Hey can you bring this back,' rather than sending a summons," she added.

Police Chief James A. Pervier said his officers have been asked by library personnel to make similar visits to at least 13 other Charlton households over library late fees.

Officials say the police-backed crackdown has since inspired more prompt book returns among library patrons.

"We've gotten quite a bit back," said Hansen. "Even some things that weren't overdue!"

Benoit told CNN that she has since returned the overdue books, making the return trip to the library shortly after the officer's visit.

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