Business Development | Risk | Threat/Hazard

Ask the Expert: As the Owner of a Movie Theater, What Threats Should I Be Aware Of Other than Active Shooters?

May 7, 2020 | 3 min read
Movie theater new scaled

Movie theater owners have known about the dangers of active shooters at the movies for almost a decade, ever since 12 were killed in 2012 at a midnight screening in Aurora Colorado, becoming one of the most well-known mass shootings of the last 10 years.

Active shooters, however, are not the only threat faced by movie theaters. Plenty of other illegal activities can pose a significant threat to your customers and to your employees as well.

How can your company prepare for an active shooter? Learn more

Three risks facing movie theaters

#1 Human trafficking abductions

Consider the average movie theater on a weekend evening. It’s dark inside and outside. There are small groups of teens and tweens there, watching films and hanging out with friends. Some kids might be hanging out by themselves outside waiting for a parent to pick them up, or for a friend to get dropped off. Kids might be alone in the theater itself, in the bathroom areas or in the halls as well. Late at night, in a theater with only one or two employees working, it’s unsurprising that human traffickers would take advantage of a theater to abduct a child.

What can movie theaters do to prevent abductions? It’s unrealistic to expect your employees — many of whom are likely teens themselves — to confront traffickers. Instead, partner with law enforcement and nonprofit organizations that combat human trafficking to educate parents and keep your customers and workers safe. You should also invest in cameras and a security force that patrols your site.

#2 Gang violence and vandalism

Graffiti, or tagging, is usually your first indicator of gang violence, which brings with it drugs, human trafficking and other undesirable activity. Gangs get interested in claiming movie theaters for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a desirable location for drug sales, sometimes it’s territorial, and sometimes it’s even political — if a movie that speaks to gang life is coming out, a gang may try to claim a theater the film in which the film is being shown. Regardless of why a gang wants your theater, that’s not something you want — two gangs in the same building is never a good thing.

The first thing you can do to discourage gang activity is to get rid of tagging. Paint over graffiti in less than 24 hours. Once it’s established that your theater is part of one gang’s territory, other gangs will want to retaliate. You may also want to invite the police to be a presence in your theater, and be sure you have teams of employees working at all times rather than one or two. You should also invest in cameras, good lighting, and a hidden scanning system like Patriot One Technologies’ Patscan System, which detects firearms using algorithms. Patscan, which is also effective against active shooters, can detect weapons that have been taken apart and are entering a building in separate bags by identifying the specific alloys that were used to make that gun.

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#3 Internal theft

Movie theaters usually employ teens, and any time you have a young workforce, internal theft can be a problem. To discourage bad choices on the part of your employees, make sure you’ve got a large team on duty, and cameras trained on the registers. You should also be engaging in best practices when it comes to handling cash: not keeping much money in the till, balancing registers, and making sure you’re doing background checks/reference checks on all employees, no matter how young they are.

Don’t let employees wait on their friends who come to the movies. An employee may feel peer pressured or obligated to give friends and family free concessions or tickets. And keep an eye on the trash cans so no one can slip money in a trash bag when they empty the trash cans. Also, encourage anonymous reporting, so your workers feel comfortable reporting troublemakers.

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Why is it important for movie theaters to consider security?

The probability of gangs claiming your theater, or human traffickers operating in your theater might be low, but consider how bad it will be for your theater if either of those things happened.

A single abduction or shooting can bankrupt a theater — the theater in Aurora where the 2012 shooting happened never recovered and had to close.

It’s best to take risks seriously before anything has happened, then to have to regain your customers’ trust after a tragic event.

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