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July 10, 2010 3:31 AM   Subscribe

What is the purpose of security guards searching bags at events (such as concerts, ballet and opera performances, nightclubs, live comedy) when the searches are usually cursory at best?

At several events I have recently been to, there have been security guards checking people's bags - but the searches I've seen and been subjected to have never been at all thorough; when I've had a bag, the guards have not looked beyond the one bag pocket I first opened for them, and I've never had my jacket pockets searched.

Anyone who wanted to could easily get past such a search with recording equipment, alcohol, weapons, or drugs.

What is the motivation for performing the searches?
posted by Mike1024 to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Security theater.
posted by caek at 3:50 AM on July 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yup, security theater (to deter, make people feel safe, and delimit an zone of decorum). Additionally, searching everyone's bags gives them license to closely search suspicious bags without drawing anger or accusations of profiling. Searches may be significantly more thorough at events thought likely to cause violence or other unwanted behavior.
posted by acidic at 4:05 AM on July 10, 2010

It deters the most egregious and unimaginative of violators from blatantly bringing in a 24 pack of Bud (or other large example of the prohibited items). It's also theater, perhaps partially for insurance reasons.
posted by ldthomps at 4:07 AM on July 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Along with the security theatre thing, there might be a bit of some of these:

- the guards are for some reason required to do bag searches (maybe it's part of the contract with the promoter that they search people for recording devices, or it's some kind of weird liquor licensing condition) but lack either the time or the inclination to do it properly, and nobody really cares because it's just not reasonable to search that many people.

- they do it to everyone so that when they profile someone they actually want to search that person can't complain about discrimination.

- it might make some people think twice about bringing in forbidden items, because you never know when the guards will make you open up all the pockets in your backpack instead of just one.

- it's all part of a grand plan to numb people into accepting this kind of thing as routine (I guess this is what security theatre's about).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:11 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

At Busch Stadium in St. Louis, it's to make sure you're not bringing in any non-AB product.
posted by notsnot at 4:20 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: They may be cursory, but oh about 25 years ago I was on my way into the Worcester Centrum to see Black Sabbath (yes, that was me) wearing motorcycle boots. The guard patted me down at the entrance in all of 5 seconds, and as he got to my boots, he gave each one a quick thump and said "bag of pot" (left) and "half pint of booze" (right).

He was exactly right. And then he let me pass right through. I think he only cared about weapons.

I guess you do anything often enough you get good at doing it quick.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:09 AM on July 10, 2010 [19 favorites]

Theatre, of course. In a belated response to the gruesome beheading two years ago, Greyhound Canada this year started airport-style searches of Montreal- and Toronto-bound passengers in Ottawa. Passengers are obliged to empty their pockets of metal items, be waved over with a wand and declare which of their bags will be in the cargo areas under the bus and which will be carry-on (the carry-on items are searched by hand).

Of course, once you are past the checkpoint, you are free to transfer anything from your unsearched cargo-section bags back into your carry-on. And of the three times I have done this in the last few months, once the security guy with the wand didn't bother to ask me to remove the metal from my pockets and waved a silent wand past pockets full of keys and change.

However, someone somewhere decided "We must do something to reassure passengers!!" and this is the result. I would be curious to see how much money Greyhound Canada also spends on magic rocks to keep elephants away each year, 'cause you don't see any elephants around here, do you?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:18 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always thought they were looking for guns. A cursory search should be enough to spot a weapon that's not too concealed.

At shows in Los Angeles, security will tend to pat down men wearing jackets.
posted by muddgirl at 7:30 AM on July 10, 2010

I always find it funny that I've managed to smuggle in bottles of water, cameras, whatever stupid crap they deemed "contraband" (and of course I didn't know that stuff was "contraband" before I arrived at the damn venue and I don't have a car to stash the camera in), just because it was at the bottom of the bag underneath stuff like my sunglasses, knitting, books, etc. and nobody's going to want to make me empty out the entire bag with nowhere to put the crap down at the door. There was only one time I ever got searched so thoroughly that they wanted to go through my tampons (gee, that was fun).

It's all really stupid.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:56 AM on July 10, 2010

Best answer: It's mostly theater, but occasionally it seems to be for real. At a concert in Philadelphia several years ago, I had to open a tube of Aleve that I was keeping in a closed makeup case in my purse to demonstrate that it contained Aleve and not illegal drugs. I don't know why that show was different--I've attended other shows by the same artist at different venues and other shows by different artists at the same venue without incident--but apparently there was something specific to that show that warranted extra security against drugs.
posted by immlass at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.

I agree that based on observation by customers, it's not unreasonable to infer that searches are security theatre - but I'd also be interested in hearing what insiders have to say; do managers and employees also regard the searches as security theatre?

It's surprising to me also that searches would be conducted as a means of reassuring customers; if I was entering a club and the guards wanted to pat me down for weapons, I would think I had come to a bad part of town, where club owners were worried about patrons shooting/stabbing one another. That would make me feel less safe.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:17 AM on July 10, 2010

Best answer: It helps deter people who would casually break the law. Opportunity and risk vs. reward is a huge component of crime.

For example, say you left your home with your front door wide open. Thieves wouldn't have to make a lot of noise, they could be in and out quickly, and the casual observer probably wouldn't know that that stranger didn't have permission to walk into your home. Imagine how many people could wander inside and take whatever they wanted unhindered; even people who wouldn't normally steal might be tempted to do so when presented with such an opportunity.

On the other hand, you can lock your door when you leave. This prevents people from casually wandering into your home, but if someone really wants to get in, they will. Anyone can break a window, kick down a door, or find some other way to defeat your lock, but that doesn't mean locking your door is pointless.

The locked door doesn't guarantee your security, but it DOES help deny opportunity and create a greater risk of being caught. Defeating the locked door will likely make getting into your home take substantially longer (picking the lock, walking around the building looking for open windows, etc.), or louder (breaking windows/kicking down doors). This activity also looks suspicious to witnesses and they are more likely to call the police. This makes the risk greater, and thus your home less attractive as a target.

People coming to an event where they know they will be searched or could be searched are less likely to bring things that are not allowed. Yes, determined people will find a way to defeat almost any security measure if they want to badly enough, but that doesn't negate the benefit of deterring the majority of illicit activity.
posted by Menthol at 11:08 PM on July 10, 2010

This is only tangentially related, but at all of the jpop concerts I've been to (in Japan), they do this to ensure that you haven't brought in a sign that's larger than the regulation size. They usually then ask you if you have a camera, and if you say yes they have a table where you can check it and get it at the end of the concert.
posted by you zombitch at 9:14 PM on July 14, 2010

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