Security Checks at Movie Theaters? Safety May Come at a Price

Two movie theater shootings in as many weeks may have shattered the illusion that multiplexes are safe havens. Many are wondering how — or if — the industry will react after a hatchet-wielding man with a pellet gun was shot on Aug. 5 during a screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” near Nashville; that incident followed the shooting deaths of three (two patrons and the gunman) at a July 23 showing of “Trainwreck” in Lafayette, La.

For now, the exhibition industry has been largely silent on security measures, similar to the collective “no comment” following the 2012 “Dark Knight Rises” shooting that left 12 victims dead in Aurora, Colo. “Trainwreck” star Amy Schumer has come out in favor of legislation to make it tougher for mentally ill people and felons to get firearms.

A recent study by research firm C4 found that 34% of moviegoers want metal detectors and armed guards in theaters, and a quarter are pushing for bag checks, but only 13% are willing to pay $3 extra to help cover the added measures, which come with steep pricetags. Armed guards cost $25-$35 an hour; security consultants estimate that outfitting a national exhibition chain with that kind of personnel could add up to $40 million over the chain’s hundreds of locations. A metal detector costs more than $200,000, and requires trained staffers — who can command compensation packages of $150,000 each. For major movie theaters, multiple scanners might be needed in order to keep lines moving, and that could cost as much as $1 million per location.

Angelo Lazzara, operations manager of New York security firm Big Time Protection, feels that people should be scanned on the way into shows, and said the federal government should help subsidize costs. “You don’t want any weapons in movie theaters,” he maintained.

Others, however, warned that the installation of such safeguards could turn going to the local multiplex into an ordeal worthy of LAX — especially on a Saturday night, after having waited in line to buy a ticket.

“It would drive down movie theater attendance,” said Jeffrey A. Slotnick, chief security officer of risk consulting firm OR3M. “Movie theaters have to be welcoming. How many people like going through TSA security at airports? Put that in a movie theater environment, and people just decide to stay home.”

Slotnick believes that there are more cost-effective means of tightening security, such as training movie theater staff to identify people who are security risks by gauging body language. But some argue that investing in highly trained guards is more effective than extra cameras, scanners or other technology, and well worth the cost. They push back against fears that it would take a bite out of profits.

Of course, sports venues and music events routinely screen patrons, and this year metal detectors became required at all Major League Baseball stadiums. Multiplexes would have to deal with several showtimes a day, but with added personnel, they likely could handle the load.

Aaron Cohen, head of Beverly Hills-based security company Israeli Military Specialists, says he thinks Americans will inevitably carry on with their lives. “In a post-9/11 world, they deserve to be treated like adults,” he said. “The times are changing, and this is where we’re at.”

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