Metal detectors at MLB games proving to be just as bad an idea as everyone feared

Lots of coverage today of the crazy-long lines at baseball stadiums on opening day, where fans ran into MLB’s new rules requiring metal detectors at all entrances. Here’s the massive lines at the New York Yankees game, and here’s fans griping about it at ballparks all over. And here’s my photo of the lines outside the Mets‘ home stadium:

image1-1That doesn’t look so bad, until you consider that the Mets weren’t actually playing at home yesterday — this was just the thousand or so people who turned up to watch the broadcast of the game for free on the center field video screen. Admittedly, for actual games there will be a few more entrances (and detectors) open, but I’m still not looking forward to the first time 40,000 people all arrive at the same time for a big game, say against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, what none of the coverage has touched on is that, as I reported for Vice last fall, security experts largely think that metal detectors are useless “security theater” measures that make sports leagues look like they’re doing something but don’t do squat to make anyone safer:

[Alabama economist Walter] Enders says that the main effect of tighter security at stadium entrances will likely be to drive any hypothetical attackers—and let’s remember that no actual terrorists have actually attacked sports venues in America outside of that time Bruce Dern tried it—to set off bombs outside stadiums instead, which would not be a happy outcome: “You’re trying to get in the door, there’s 20,000 people standing around outside. I could do a lot of damage there, just as easily as I could if I brought the thing inside. Maybe even more.” (His students, Enders notes, are constantly wondering aloud why no one ever simply flies an airplane over a stadium and drops an explosive device out the window.)

Besides, if we really cared about safety, Enders says, we’d do things like ensure that bag checks actually check bags, beyond a quick look to ensure that no one is smuggling in unauthorized foodstuffs. “I just went to see Alabama-West Virginia in Atlanta,” he notes. “My wife and I wanted to bring something in to drink. I said, ‘Put it in the bottom of the purse, and we’ll put the binoculars and the program on top, and that’s the end of that.'”

The problem with real bag checks, of course, is that they’re even more time-consuming and labor-intensive. Walk-through metal detectors offer the perfect blend of comforting concern and barely workable efficiency that have made them the go-to security devices at airports everywhere — even if there’s no evidence that they actually keep anyone safer.

MLB’s metal detector mandate likely to save no lives, ever

And finally, this has nothing to with stadium funding per se, but in case some of my readers might happen to be sports fans with an interest in the experience of attending games (just a hunch), I have an article up at Vice Sports today on how MLB’s new policy of requiring metal detectors at all stadiums isn’t likely to keep anyone safer from anything, ever. Key paragraph:

[Alabama economist Walter] Enders says that the main effect of tighter security at stadium entrances will likely be to drive any hypothetical attackers—and let’s remember that no actual terrorists have actually attacked sports venues in America outside of that time Bruce Dern tried it—to set off bombs outside stadiums instead, which would not be a happy outcome: “You’re trying to get in the door, there’s 20,000 people standing around outside. I could do a lot of damage there, just as easily as I could if I brought the thing inside. Maybe even more.”

Okay, but what’s the harm in added security checks? Aside from giving people a false sense of security, it diverts attention (and resources) from things that actually do kill fans, unlike so-far-mythical stadium terrorists. If you want to pick something that would be a minor inconvenience but would save lives, how about reducing speed limits on streets around sports stadiums by half? Or mandatory breathalyzer tests before anyone is allowed to check their cars out of the parking lot? Or even just MLB using the same money to chip in toward added police to enforce existing laws like speed limits and bans on texting while driving?As Bruce Schneier says in the article, the metal detector dictate is “security theater.” And yes, he says that about most everything, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

(P.S. I should probably also remind you of this.)