Life after 9/11: Metal detectors aren’t just for airports anymore

Get ready for more bag checks, for more wands waved over your outstretched arms, for more bleeping archways that detect guns – or nail clippers or keys – in your pocket.

In the 14 years since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve seen a spike in security, followed by a long lull, followed by a recent resurgence.

Metal detectors have become the new normal.

Major League Baseball mandated them at all parks this season. The National Hockey League mandated them in all arenas this upcoming season. And the National Football League will mandate them in all stadiums by next season.

In addition, many theme parks, concert halls and county fairs use them. Even movie theaters are considering them.


“People are nuts,” says Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati. “Who knows what they’ll do? It’s not getting better in the world, so we have to plan for this stuff and protect ourselves and our guests.”

Speigel, a consultant to more than 500 projects in 50 countries, cites the example of an amusement park that installed metal detectors a few years ago. He declined to name the specific park, but said “they were pulling out guns, knives, ice picks. I’m not kidding. That’s the world we live in.”

More than 375 million Americans will go to a theme or water park this year, he says, adding: “99 percent could care less if they have to walk through a metal detector. They want to be safe.”

Angels season-ticket holder Mike Johnson doesn’t mind the two- to 10-minute wait to walk through a metal detector, but it doesn’t necessarily make him feel safer.

“It gives the perception that they’re doing something,” says Johnson, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. “But it’s almost a false sense of security.”

“If someone was planning a terrorist-related attack, they’re not going to walk through the front door with guns. They’d come through the back door with a small device or chemicals.”

On the other hand, Johnson adds, metal detectors prevent belligerents from carrying in guns and knives, which is a good thing.

For that reason, Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain use metal detectors. also known as magnetometers.

Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks, installed them this month. Disneyland, however, still relies on bag checks.

A loaded gun

It was hot. Ridiculously hot. Ninety-six-degrees-plus-humidity hot.

Liz Love wasn’t thinking about security. She was thinking about cooling down on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland with her husband, Jeff, and 2-year-old daughter, Alice.

She hoped security checks would be quick. Guards searched her purse, diaper bag and stroller. In less than a minute, they waved the young family into the esplanade leading to Disneyland.

At the time, Love was happy. But now she wonders. Especially knowing that a convicted felon sits in jail – charged with carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol through those bag checks this summer.

“It concerns me because it’s a family park,” Love says, “and I have a family.”

Anaheim Police say park security spotted a gunman in the esplanade between Disneyland and California Adventure on the night of July 9 – eight days before the park’s bustling 60th anniversary. That led to the arrest of Percival Aguilar Agoncillo Jr., 44, of San Francisco before he could enter either park.

Would metal detectors have made a difference that night?

No one knows. And Disney officials won’t discuss their security, which forgoes metal detectors in favor of bag checks, roving security guards and Anaheim police stationed on site.

Anaheim police say the parks remain extremely safe.

“Truthfully, this is the only time I’m aware of that something like this has happened there,” Anaheim Police Sgt. Daron Wyatt says of the arrest outside the adjacent parks, which draw 40,000 to 60,000 visitors a day.

Agoncillo remains in custody in San Mateo County in connection with a prior case and will be brought to Orange County on charges when released.

Anaheim Police help patrol the two theme parks, two professional sports teams (Ducks and Angels) and the largest convention center on the West Coast – providing security you don’t always see or know is there.

“We can’t talk numbers,” Wyatt says, “but we work with those venues and we staff appropriately for whatever the event needs. Public safety is paramount.”

Some still wish Disneyland would add metal detectors.

“I don’t have a problem going through extra security to ensure we’re safe,” says Love, a premium pass holder. “I’d rather have that than some guy who manages to get through and wipe out some people.”

Experts say we can demand any level of security we want, if we’re willing to pay the price – in dollars, inconvenience and freedoms.

Movie-goers recently were asked how much they’d pay to feel safe in theaters. Their answer:

About a buck.

Paying the price

Movie theaters have seen more than their share of violence this summer.

After a shooting attack in Louisiana, a hatchet attack in Tennessee and a leaf-blower hoax in Newport Beach, Regal Entertainment Group is checking bags at more than 550 theaters nationwide.

“I’m okay with bag checks,” says Casey Oliver of Hollywood, who’s watched more than 250 movies this year, “but I roll my eyes at it.”

Why? Because she usually hides a burrito and yogurt in her bag.

“I’m not paying $8.50 for a tub of popcorn,” she says. “That means I’ll use a bigger purse, sneak my food in there and I’m good to go.”

A recent survey by the consumer research firm C4 in Beverly Hills found that about half of the 500 moviegoers questioned (48 percent) said they would pay an extra $1 for increased security in theaters, though few (19 percent) would pay an extra $3.

“What we’re seeing is an acceptance of bag checks,” says Kristen Simmons, C4’s chief innovation officer, “and probably metal detectors and security in the lobby.”

Some point out that the odds of getting hurt in a theater remain infinitesimally small.

“If you did the math on the chances of getting killed in the movies, it’s in the billions-to-one,” says retired Anaheim Police Department Capt. Joe Vargas, who oversaw Disney security for the Anaheim police and served as incident commander for an All-Star game in Anaheim.

“You’re much more likely to be killed by a friend, an acquaintance or a loved one.”

Yet news of shootings in public venues takes its toll on all of us.

As a retired cop, Vargas is allowed a concealed weapons permit and says he wouldn’t hesitate to help others in need.

“I don’t carry a firearm often,” he says, “but I do in a movie theater.”

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