Theater policy targets weapons, smuggled treats

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 30, 2012 

Northridge Cinema on Hilton Head Island has started checking bags of patrons as the enter the building in reaction to the shooting in Colorado during the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in July 2012.

DELAYNA EARLEY THE ISLAND PACKET

Movie-goers at Northridge Cinema 10 who try to take candy and other treats into the theater risk having their goodies confiscated, according to several customers.

An official at the Hilton Head Island theater acknowledged that purses and handbags are being inspected to prevent weapons from being brought inside. But when food and drinks turn up, customers must part with them, too, he said.

Some patrons wonder whether the searches have a side benefit for the theater, which prefers customers buy food and drinks at the concession stand. Sales of popcorn, candy and sodas are a big revenue stream for most theaters.

Northridge makes clear its concern about candy, drinks and other treats by asking customers to hand them over, then holding them in a container near the exit during the show and returning them to customers as they leave.

"You're not going to walk into a restaurant and bring in food from another restaurant and eat it," said John Snodgrass, the theater's general manager. "We don't see ourselves as any different."

Movie-goers asked about the searches Tuesday say they're happy to comply -- "If it's for safety reasons, I don't mind," Hilton Head resident Maureen Rosene said.

But some questioned the fairness of the searches.

"I saw guys wearing loose jackets and sweaters, and none of them were checked," said Hilton Head resident Marianne Wright, who said she had a box of Junior Mints taken from her at Northridge.

"I'm in support of theaters checking for weapons, but you have to check everyone and have metal detectors," Wright said.

Signs near the ticket booth and inside the theater advise patrons that the theater has the right to search purses, bags and backpacks and tell them to have them open, ready for inspection. The theater also posts its no-food-or-drink-policy.

Snodgrass said Southeast Cinema, which owns Northridge, has long conducted searches in its locations in Charleston. The policy was adopted at Northridge about a week after the deadly July 20 shooting in Colorado, he said.

Theaters across the United States implemented new security measures, including bag checks, after the shooting during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." Twelve people were killed and at least 58 injured when a man opened fire on the audience at a Cinemark multiplex in Aurora, Colo.

Shortly afterward, the National Association of Theater Owners issued a security checklist reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. The list focuses on ensuring that emergency plans are up to date and theater staff trained to report suspicious activity.

"(The shooting) increased the awareness of the potential for public gathering places to be a location for violence," Snodgrass said. "We're trying to provide as reasonable a level of security for employees and customers as we can practically manage."

He said employees also routinely inspect the theaters and check throughout the day to make sure doors are properly secured.

A manager a Park Plaza Cinema on Hilton Head said it, too, recently began inspecting bags and purses for weapons. It was not clear whether that theater checks for and take customers' food and drinks.

"People were scared after the shooting in Colorado, and most have said they appreciate us checking," assistant manager Rachel Ace said.

Attempts Tuesday to reach representatives of other local movie theaters, including Cinemark in Bluffton, were unsuccessful.

Some local movie-goers said the checks put employees untrained in providing security -- including teens -- at risk and violate customers' privacy.

Northridge employees conducting searches are instructed to ask anyone found with a weapon to take it back to their vehicle and lock it inside, according to Snodgrass. If necessary, law enforcement can be called, he said, adding that a deputy is stationed at the cinema on busy Friday nights.

So far, no weapons have been found, he said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related content:

12 names added to victim list in theater shooting: Oct. 26, 2012

Theater owners step up security after Colorado theater shooting: July 20, 2012

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