In Movie Theaters, How Much Security Is Enough?

The tragedy at the showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., has theaters around the country beefing up security this weekend. Movie theaters make their own decisions about what level of security they need. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, security experts say it's usually not enough.

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And late yesterday, Christopher Nolan, the director of "The Dark Knight Rises" issued a written statement on behalf of the films cast and crew.

I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were last night to watch a movie, he wrote. The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.

Now, the managers and owners of movie theaters make their own decisions about what level of security they need, but as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, security experts say it's usually not enough.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Nothing this horrific has ever happened in a movie theater in this country before. But there have been other instances of violence. At a theater in Philadelphia, two people were shot during an attempted robbery. In Baltimore, a young man was fatally shot at a showing of "X-Men." In Fullerton, California, two men were stabbed during a horror film.

TOM DELUCA: Movie theaters are a soft target and will continue to be a soft target.

BLAIR: Tom DeLuca is a retired Nassau County New York police officer. He's now president of Global Security Services, a company that provides security to, among other things, movie theaters. He says there are many reasons movie theaters are easy targets for violence.

DELUCA: There are many ways in, many ways out. No one is frisked. No one is patted down, obviously. That would not be good for business. There's cash, of course. It's a very high cash volume business.

BLAIR: And yet, DeLuca says, many theaters go without any security guards. In a press conference, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates was asked about security at the theater where the shooting occurred.

DAN OATES: We often have off-duty police officers working at this theater. They were not working there that night.

BLAIR: Initial reports from several people who were in the theater said the gunman entered through the exit. Exit doors are particularly challenging, says DeLuca.

DELUCA: That's almost impossible to defeat. Once a person - they can buy a ticket. They can go sit down in a movie theater. OK? All they have to do is get up, go out the exit door, no alarm would go on, place an item between the door so they can come back in and bring any kind of device with them and there's no one to challenge them.

BLAIR: Those challenges are very much on the minds of theater owners. Security around the country has been tightened. Here's New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly talking to New York One News.

RAYMOND KELLY: We're just concerned that someone, perhaps seeking notoriety, will attempt to do something similar. I mean, I know that is a kind of a general public concern.

BLAIR: But how long will security be in place? Tom DeLuca of Global Securities is worried it won't be long enough. He says he remembers being very busy after 9/11, but, over time, the calls tapered off.

DELUCA: Typical scenario, security gets ramped up and once the story fades into the sunset, it goes back to business as usual, which is a shame.

BLAIR: But some people might not want their movie going experience to feel like an airport security checkpoint. Coming out of a showing of Dark Knight Rises at a theater in Washington, D.C., Alex O'Dell says he hopes theaters don't go too far.

ALEX O'DELL: I don't want to live in a world where everyone has to pass through a metal detector to go on an everyday activity like go to a movie theater.

BLAIR: Fans of the Batman movies are known to show up wearing costumes. At least one theater chain, AMC, has said it will not allow costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable, nor will it permit, quote, "face covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings." Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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