Lafayette shooting renews debate on movie theater security

25 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

It’s time to bolster movie theater security.

The big theater chains have been slow to react after another deadly shooting at a cinema raised fears about security measures at cineplexes nationwide.Moviegoer Melissa Holt took in a screening of the animated film “Minions” at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood on Friday with little worry about her safety. “If that’s something they need to keep people safe, they should do it,” said Holt, 42, a cinematographer. “I could see how you could sneak in with guns.” John Russell Houser, a 59-year-old drifter, opened fire at Lafayette’s Grand Theatre on Thursday night, killing two people and injuring nine before turning the gun on himself and ending his own life, according to authorities.

The Lafayette, Louisiana, shooting on Thursday that left three dead and several more wounded won’t change movie theater security dramatically, experts say. The National Assn. of Theater Owners and representatives from the nation’s top five chains either did not have a comment or could not be reached for a comment Friday morning. The incident renewed the debate on security that began three years ago when a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 and wounding 70.

The chains — AMC Entertainment, Regal Entertainment, Cineplex Entertainment, Carmike Cinemas and Cinemark Theatres — also had not released statements on their websites or social media pages. But for the most part, not much has changed. “It’s not that easy to secure a theater,” security expert Howard Levinson told TheWrap. “The most secure places we have right now are airports, and people still manage to get through security.” Levinson, who consulted with a large New England-based theater chain for years, says the first thing theaters should do is hire and train more people, especially considering many theater employees are teenagers who get minimal training, if any. Another problem is that modern movie theaters don’t have projectionists, who, aside from dealing with the projectors, were charged with looking through their window to make sure everything was running smoothly. Maintaining a strong security installation at a multiplex could cost between $250,000 and $1 million annually, according to security consultant Michael Dorn.

Such a system would include metal detectors, X-ray machines, workers to operate those devices and additional armed security. “There’s a difference between having a metal detector at the door and actually having effective screening,” said Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that consults with schools and other facilities about security. “My fear is that we may see theaters throw in metal detectors without proper utilization.” Representatives of the major theater chains did not respond to requests for comment Friday, but any changes that threaten to make the moviegoing experience less smooth would probably meet industry resistance. Most cinemas in the U.S. don’t have metal detectors or extensive security checks, and moviegoers can still wander around the multiplex without fear of raising suspicion from employees.

John Hickenlooper at the time of the 2012 Aurora shootings, believes there will have to be permanent security changes. “There is no question in my mind that there are meetings going on as we speak, talking about improving security and associated liability. Consumers are increasingly staying home, enjoying video-on-demand and home entertainment technology that has made watching movies from the living room an immersive experience. I think it will take time to happen,” says Davis, who is currently a partner in Public Safety Ventures in Longmont, Colo. “By necessity now – from a liability standpoint, movie theaters are going to have to step up.” “(Stadium owners) have decided that people are willing to put up with that level of security to go see a game. But security experts say there is not a lot that can be done to stop the problem. “How many tens of thousands of movie theaters do we have in this country?” asked former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. “There are about 315 million people in this country, and we have about 300 million guns. Several civil suits, which could go to trial next year, allege that Cinemark should be held liable because of inadequate security that could have prevented the shooting.

The question for the movie theaters (or anyone else) is, where is that line?” The implications are huge for theater chain operators and theater owners with the potential cost security upgrades — with theaters being significantly smaller venues than stadiums with higher turnover. If you want to get a gun in America, you can get a gun.” Levinson, who has designed security for more than 100 theaters, says installing night-vision cameras and building a control room where one person can monitor what’s going on at any given time, is a good start. However, this year, blockbusters such as “Furious 7,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Jurassic World” have lured audiences back into theaters. Other simple changes include installing sensors on employee-only doors and back exits inside theaters, which might have helped avoid the Aurora massacre. “Metal detectors are only as good as the people who use them,” Cahn said. “You have to find the right balance.

You have to buy them, you have to install them, you have to train your employees to be able to use them and maintain them,” says Davis. “You have to come up with new entry procedures so you don’t have huge lines at the front of the theater that turn people off.

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