- Becca Sickbert
- Lines form at The Broadmoor World Arena, one of several venues now banning large bags from being brought inside.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen sprayed the Pulse nightclub in Orlando with bullets, killing 49 and wounding 53.
On May 22, 2017, Salman Ramadan Abedi set off a bomb in the foyer of London’s Manchester Arena during pop singer Ariana Grande’s concert, killing 23 and wounding 139.
All were carried out in enclosed entertainment venues where people seek enjoyment and a respite from the confusion of an often violent and unpredictable world.
Increasingly, local entertainment venues, mirroring a nationwide trend, are adding new security measures they hope will prevent attacks — such as banning standard purses and bags, and only allowing “clear bags.” But it’s far from certain that having such measures at security checkpoints at venue entrances deters the bad guys. Holmes, for example, entered an exit door, and the bomber in Manchester waited for the concert to end and set off a bomb in the foyer as guests were leaving.
Consider the record of the Transportation Safety Administration. When tested in 2015, the TSA, which guards the nation’s airports, failed to detect contraband, including weapons, 95 percent of the time. The TSA has since beefed up training, including sending all TSA agents through a training academy. But to this day, some argue the agency gears its policies to past terrorist plots (shoe-bomber, anyone?), rather than anticipating a new ruse.
Some security experts say it’s anyone’s guess whether some measures truly protect the public. One of those is Bruce Schneier, an international security expert, author and chief technology officer with IBM Resilient who’s also a fellow at Harvard University. He says the $7 billion spent on the TSA should be reallocated to intelligence, investigations and emergency response.
He also calls the new bag policies at venues “security theater,” adding, “Any search that doesn’t physically embarrass you is not very effective. When you get arrested and get searched by the police, it is invasive. It is embarrassing. That doesn’t happen when you walk into a football stadium.”
But others say the mere presence of a screening program deters would-be attackers. That’s the idea behind so-called “clear bag policies” and similar bans, representatives at local venues that have enacted the rules say. One of those is Colorado College, which has barred large bags from events unless they’re physically checked by security personnel. But director of campus safety Maggie Santos acknowledges the ban isn’t foolproof.
“If we wanted to be absolutely secure, we would put a box on campus and make it secure, but is it a place you want to be?” she asks.
The Broadmoor World Arena allows only see-through bags and hand-sized purses (clutches), a policy that’s evolved as more entertainers and acts ask that bags be forbidden, says Dot Lischick, general manager. She couldn’t point to a specific incident that triggered the ban, but noted several artists who perform at the 8,100-seat center, as well as the Colorado College hockey team, asked the arena to ban large bags.
“If we wanted to be absolutely secure, we would put a box on campus and make it secure, but is it a place you want to be?” click to tweet
“NO large bags, backpacks, or purses will be permitted into the venue,” the arena’s website says, noting exceptions include small clutch bags the size of a hand; clear plastic bags and medically necessary items that have been inspected by security.
“The climate of what’s happening in the world, it’s something that’s on everyone’s mind, and it’s becoming more and more of the norm,” Lischick says.
She also says the World Arena uses a metal detector more frequently than it used to, in keeping with advice from experts who consult with venues across the country. Pikes Peak Center, also overseen by Lischick, is moving toward more screenings, although at present, security ramps up only when an artist or event requests it, she says.
The Pepsi Center in Denver bans all oversized bags and backpacks but allows personal-size bags and containers no larger than 14 inches by 14 inches by 6 inches, though they’re subject to search, the center’s website says. It also notes those without bags can use the “No Bag Line,” which moves quicker. The center also boasts it was the first professional venue in Colorado to install “Walk-Through Metal Detectors” as a permanent security practice.
Similarly, Madison Square Gardens “strongly discourages” guests from bringing bags and backpacks, its website says, noting that all bags are subject to screening.
Movie theaters, too, have adopted no-bag policies. As of February 2018, Cinemark, which owns Century 16 theaters, prohibits bags or packages larger than 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches, according to its corporate website. But while any bag can be inspected before entry, there’s no methodical checkpoint procedure to screen everyone.
At CC, Santos reports that guests at events at campus venues — such as the Cornerstone, Armstrong and Celeste theaters — can bring in larger bags, but they must be cleared by security before entry.
“As events happen at these large venues, everybody becomes a little more wary,” Santos says.
She admits the strategy wouldn’t intercept every threatening item.
“There is a certain level of security we can provide,” she says. “We can’t stop everything. We’re providing a level of security, not 100 percent security. I’m not going to do strip searches or cavity searches. I’m not going to do that to provide 100 percent security.”
- Becca Sickbert
Bucking the trend, except for specific high-profile events, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs doesn’t have a standard security policy. That means it allows purses and bags at events, says spokesperson Jared Verner. “We have officers from UCCS Police present at most events where we expect crowds, like at the Ent Center and athletic events,” he says via email, “but we’re not screening people as they come in.”
He adds, though, that certain events warrant higher security, including checking bags, such as the 2017 visit by provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and the visit by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
Some might view the no-bag policy as unfairly targeting women, who tend to carry purses, since there are few female mass shooters.
But as Santos notes, “How do you know she’s not with a shooter? I don’t want to judge who is or who is not going to do something. If you have one rule across the board that protects everybody, that’s the way to go.”
But Schneier, the security expert, says bag policies might “make you feel better but it’s not going to stop the behavior [of a mass shooter].
“Ask any teenager how to smuggle alcohol into a concert,” he says, adding that a hollow “beer belly” can be strapped on and alcohol concealed inside.
In a blog, he notes the U.S. has 5 million commercial buildings. “It’s impossible to defend every place against everything, and it’s impossible to predict which tactic and target terrorists will try next.”