Preparedness Key To Smooth Utilization of
What Happens When You Call The Cops
by Steven John Fellman
NATO Washington Counsel
There are certain rare but predictable situations
in the life of any theatre operator where it may be necessary
to call the police.
Your company should have a policy instructing
theatre managers what to do in such situations. The policy
that every manager and employee should read the policy
and follow it when dealing with a situation that may require
Maybe some teens in the audience become
unruly. Perhaps someone in the auditorium is trying to
copy a film with
a camcorder. What happens if, on Saturday night, the auditorium
is packed and a wheelchair patron with a companion comes
in minutes before show time and tries to force someone
out of a “companion” seat? In each of these
situations, there may be a need for prompt assistance from
professionally trained personnel.
Some theatres have staff security people
who can handle these situations quickly, efficiently and
parameters. However, most theatres have to rely on the
theatre manager to take appropriate action and, in many
instances, that action is to “call the cops.” Theatre
managers should all be trained to understand that whenever
a problem in the auditorium gets out of hand, they should
instruct their staff to get out of harms way and let the
security people or the police take over. Don’t start
making citizens arrests or taking other action that may
result in injuries to patrons and staff and liability for
the theatre operator.
But what happens when you call the police?
Will they respond immediately? Will they enter a darkened
auditorium to arrest
someone camcording a movie? Are they going to give you
the type of service that you require?
The answer to these questions will vary
from city to city across the country. In some small towns
where the theatre
is the only source of entertainment and the theatre manager
and the chief of police are friends, you can expect that
when the theatre manager calls, there will be a quick and
meaningful police response. However, in major cities where
the police are understaffed and overworked, a call from
a theatre manager reporting that someone is camcording
a movie may get such a low priority that the movie is over
and the movie pirate is long gone before the police arrive.
As a theatre operator there are certain
actions that you can take to increase police responsiveness.
are simple and do not involve any significant expense.
You should consider adding these recommendations to your
1. Make sure that your
local police department knows your facility. Have your manager contact the local
and arrange for someone from the department to tour the
theatre. Explain the types of concerns you have and ask
for advice on the best way to deal with anticipated problems.
In most instances the police will be open and tell you
what you can expect in terms of police responsiveness.
You may be told that if someone takes out a firearm in
the theatre, the police will respond immediately. However,
if someone is sitting quietly with a camcorder, don’t
expect a quick police response so you had better just ask
the person to leave.
2. Ask the police about
the best means of calling for help. Should you
call 911 or is there a special number that you
should use? Again, the more information you get, the better
able you will be to respond to emergency situations.
3. Find out what the
police will expect from you when they arrive. Will
you be asked to turn the house lights on and
shut the film down? Will you be asked to close off access
to other parts of your theatre and isolate the area where
the problem exists? Will it be necessary that your staff
implement crowd control procedures? These are the types
of questions that you should ask. The response from the
police will be meaningful in that it will influence your
decisions relating to when the police should be called.
4. Are you afraid of
police backlash? Some
theatre owners report that inviting the police into a theatre
may be like
inviting a fox into the chicken coop. The police may notice
various types of building code violations, unsanitary conditions,
fire code violations, etc. I don’t buy this argument.
If your theatre has these types of problems you are courting
disaster. Just look at the nightclub tragedies reported
last year where people were killed and hurt when fire doors
where chained closed. The potential injury to patrons and
financial liability for a theatre owner overcome any justification
for shoddy operating practices. I have heard the argument
that unless I chain lock the screen door exit, kids will
sneak down and let all their friends into the theatre.
Yes, this is a problem but not one that justifies chaining
a fire exit closed.
Developing a tie with the local police promotes
good community relations. Perhaps you can sponsor a matinee
for the local
police boys and girls club. Maybe you could give two passes
to the “Officer of the Month.” Whatever you
do, building a strong theatre/police relationship will
insure that on those rare occasions when you may have to “call
the cops” you will get the best response possible
and your staff will know what to do to make sure that the
police get in and out of your theatre with the least amount