Ballpark security theater has officially gone from tragedy to farce

This is a bit awry of this site’s usual topic, but since I wrote it and some of you may be interested: The New York Yankees instituted a new biometric fingerprint-scanning method for fans to bypass the metal detectors that have made for huge lines at games, and it is as stupid as stupid can be:

Unlike airports, ballparks don’t usually have an ID-checking stage to skip. Security may want to know that you have tickets and that you’re not trying to smuggle in Uranium-235 under your cap, but they don’t give a crap about who you are. So the only way to expedite entry for the biometrically approved is to let them skip the metal detectors, provided they are bag-free—even though all they’ve shown is who they are, not what they’re carrying.

In other words, if you need someone to carry some brass knuckles into Yankee Stadium for your next bleacher brawl, I’m your man. Unless you want to take 60 seconds to join CLEAR Fast Access yourself, and stuff them in your own pockets.

There are differing reports on exactly what the experience has been for Yankees fans (and Giants and Rockies fans before them) who use CLEAR Fast Access to skip the lines: One person on social media claimed he was wanded, which did not happen at the gate I witnessed; another said she didn’t even have to submit to a bag check, which goes against what CLEAR officials told me. But either way, several MLB teams have now gone through the trouble of installing metal detectors at all gates (because the league now requires it, though wands are still an alternate option, and are widely used by the Mets, among other teams, to speed entry), discovered that it creates huge lines, then allowed fans to skip this step entirely just by proving they have a driver’s license and fingerprints.

If the detectors made little sense in the first place other than as security theater, this new wrinkle makes even less sense. But you know what they always say: Two wrongs make a right! Er, that’s how the phrase goes, right?

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.)