Terror at the movies: Preventing rampages
An evening of fun turned into a night of horror.
Last July 20, James Holmes allegedly opened fire at a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring 70.
Although the incident took place nearly 2,000 miles from the Berkshires, it could have happened anywhere. Officials from local entertainment venues and law-enforcement agencies say they already had security measures in place to help prevent these types of incidents. But venue officials also are reassessing existing procedures.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said there is a "robust program in place for venue security, site security" that includes making sure there is proper traffic control and enough security personnel for entertainment venues -- such as the Beacon Cinema and Colonial Theatre -- that host special events.
During the Beacon's final phases of construction in 2009, the Pittsfield Police Department worked with the business' management and the building's contractors to ensure there was security protocol before the theater opened to the public.
"I can't say we've changed business since Aurora, because we were already focusing on those venues," Wynn said.
According to news reports, Holmes entered the theater in Colorado through an exit door he had propped open. He released gas canisters into the air, then fired on the audience, police said.
"After it happened, we had a staff meeting and went over staff procedures," said John Valente, general manager for the Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield and the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. "We made sure the signage on our emergency exit doors was clearly marked as no re-entry. We try to be vigilant with anything we perceive as unusual."
Movie-goers at Regal Cinemas at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough may notice that theater employees -- holding a flashlight -- walk to the back of the theater and push on the exit doors to ensure they aren't propped open.
Valente said someone intent on doing harm wouldn't have an easy time of entry and re-entry at his theaters.
"Our exit doors don't exit directly to the outside," he said. "They lead to a pretty labyrinthine exit."
When police have been called to the Beacon for minor issues, Valente said they've been quick to respond. The police station is on Allen Street, roughly a city block east of the Beacon, which is on North Street.
AMC Theaters, the second-largest theater chain in the United States after Regal, issued a statement the day after the shooting in Aurora that said costumes and props that made other movie-goers uncomfortable would be prohibited in their theaters. Holmes entered the movie theater wearing tactical gear, according to reports.
At the Beacon, costumes -- and especially fake props and weapons brought in by patrons -- are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Valente said.
Pittsfield also features cultural events such as Third Thursdays and the First Fridays Artswalk, which take place downtown. During each Third Thursday event, a portion of North Street is closed to motor vehicle traffic. Before the event begins, the Office of Cultural Development meets with local law enforcement to detail the event, according to the office's director, Megan Whilden.
"We make sure they know that they know there will be guys in high heels, or a beach on North Street," she said, referring to two popular Third Thursday events.
To reach Adam Poulisse:
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse
A selection of theaters and cultural venues in the county (all area codes are 413):
Barrington Stage Company: 30 Union St., Pittsfield, 236-8888, www.barringtonstageco.org.
Beacon Cinema: 57 North St., Pittsfield, 358-4780, www.thebeaconcinema.com.
Berkshire Theatre Group/Colonial Theatre: 111 South St., Pittsfield, 997-4444, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.
Clark Art Institute: 225 South St., Williamstown, 458-2303, www.clarkart.edu.
Images Cinema: 40 Spring St., Williamstown, 458-5612, www.imagescinema.org.
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival: 358 George Carter Road, Becket, 243-9919, www.jacobspillow.org.
Lichtenstein Center for the Arts: 28 Renne Ave., Pittsfield, 499-9348, www.culturalpittsfield.com.
Little Cinema: 39 South St., Pittsfield, 443-7171, www.berkshiremuseum.org.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center: 14 Castle St., Great Barrington, 528-0100, www.mahaiwe.org.
Mass MoCA: 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, 662-2111, www.massmoca.org.
North Adams Movieplex Eight: 80R Main St., North Adams, 663-6300, www.northadamsmovieplex.com.
Regal Cinemas: Berkshire Mall, Lanesborough, 499-3106, www.regmovies.com.
Shakespeare & Company: 70 Kemble St., Lenox, 637-1199, www.shakespeare.org.
Tanglewood Music Center: 197 West St., Lenox, 637-1600, www.bso.org.
Triplex Cinema: 70 Railroad St., Great Barrington, 528-8885, www.thetriplex.com.
Williamstown Theater Festival: 84 Spring St., Williamstown, 458-3200, www.wtfestival.org.