Citadel talks theater security and preparedness after Colorado shooting.

Aurora shooting highlights theater safety

Published: July 21, 2012 8:46 PM
By KEVIN DEUTSCH  kevin.deutsch@newsday.com

Metal detectors, armed guards and high-tech surveillance in movie theaters could theoretically help deter deadly violence, but the most practical deterrent is for filmgoers and employees to simply be alert, security experts say.

Valley Stream cineplex adopted metal detectors after a fatal 1990 gang shooting, but few theaters followed suit.

“It’s not always feasible financially to run cameras and metal detectors in movie theaters, but if you have a couple of people who are aware and have their eyes open, they can see something’s amiss and do something about it,” said David Yorio, managing director of Manhattan-based Citadel Security Agency. “It comes down to simple awareness.”

Movie theaters are considered “soft targets” because they commonly have multiple entrances and exits, and do not conduct bag or body screening on customers, experts said.

But even as theater chain owners across the country scrutinized their security in the wake of Friday’s shooting in Colorado, some ruled out precautions like metal detectors and routine bag checks, saying they would intrude on theatergoers and be tough to implement.

“It would turn off a lot of people,” said Tom DeLuca, a former Nassau police officer and president of Global Security Services, which handles security at 195 theaters across the country. “The only way to defeat this type of behavior is to make the security similar to that of an airport, and that’s not going to happen.”

To effectively secure a multiplex against an armed intruder, a theater would have to install metal detectors and cameras and have all moviegoers pass through a single entry point watched by trained guards, said James Greco, owner of Long Island Security Consultants, based in Manorville.

Even those precautions might be futile against a gunman like the one who carried out Friday’s massacre, he said.

Authorities believe the accused shooter, James Holmes, 24, did not yet have his weapons when he purchased a ticket to “The Dark Knight Rises” at the multiplex in Aurora, Colo. After entering the theater, he propped open an emergency exit door and went outside. He returned with body armor, tear gas and four guns, opening fire on the terrified crowd, law enforcement sources said.

“That’s tough to prevent,” Greco said. “If a guy’s going to come through with a rifle and he’s intent on killing people, the damage is probably done by the time you call 911.”

Still, in rare cases, theaters have installed high-tech systems to keep weapons out.

The Sunrise Multiplex Cinemas in Valley Stream put in a $1-million security system after a youth gang shootout on Christmas night in 1990 left one patron dead and three others wounded during the opening of “The Godfather Part III.”

The decision came after months of threats by community leaders to force a closing of the theater where at least 10 violent incidents had occurred in a five-year span.

The system included six metal detectors; a manned security command center outfitted with closed-circuit television monitors and telephones; and 23 closed-circuit cameras and video recording equipment.

Today, it remains in use, said Rachel Lulay, a spokeswoman for National Amusements Inc., the theater’s parent company.