Friday, July 20, 2012

Security theater at theaters

James Holmes allegedly killed twelve people and wounded fifty-nine others at a Colorado movie theater's first showing of the new Batman movie, according to the AP.

The event was horrific. Yet does it justify this predictable response?

Around the U.S., police and some movie theaters stepped up security for daytime showings of the movie, though many fans waiting in line said they were not worried about their safety.
Your gut reaction might be, "Hell, yes, it justifies the reponse". I suppose I can understand that. If I were waiting to see the movie, I might feel that way, too.

However, think about it for a second. The police have said that Holmes, arrested minutes after the shootings, hasn't told them why he (allegedly) committed mass murder. There is no reason that I can see to expect an army of copycats to rise up in his wake.

You might argue that the movie is drawing big crowds, and that alone might attract similar (apparent and alleged) nutcases. But big crowds are all over. They're on buses at rush hour, malls, open-air festivals, parades, and I'm sure many other places I can't think of right now. Movie theaters are hardly more vulnerable than any of these other gathering spots, so why are we singling them out for increasingly scarce law enforcement resources?

What we're seeing in that police response is what computer security (and more recently, general security) researcher Bruce Schneier calls "security theater" (plug that term, including the quotation marks, into Schneier's site to get a sense of his views on the subject). It's a bit of mummery to make the general public feel better, because the general public doesn't tend to think all that clearly in the wake of such violent incidents.

The thing is, we're in an era of increasingly limited resources, human and otherwise. We really need to start thinking more rationally if we're going to deploy those resources to their best effect. To deploy the police directly to the site of the shootings is eminently rational, of course. But to send them off willy-nilly to unaffected locations nationwide just because somebody thinks, "Oh my God, a theater was attacked; we'd better prepare in case this is a war on theaters!" or some such nonsense -- that's a colossal waste of money and manpower. How many real crimes will be successfully committed because the police standing a pointless guard at the movie house weren't where a longer-term, better-considered deployment strategy said they should be?

We can't afford security theater at our theaters -- or anywhere else. Rather than catering to the irrationality of the public, it's time for all of us to educate ourselves on the statistics of risk in our lives. (Schneier's site, by the way, is not a bad place to start.) That way, we can start behaving more intelligently, and make much better use of those increasingly scarce human and financial resources.

No comments:

Post a Comment