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Security on hand for local theater’s midnight showing

Rex Barber and Becky Campbell • Jul 20, 2012 at 9:36 PM

For a long time Johnson City police have provided security at Johnson City’s largest movie theater.

The massacre at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., Friday has been called one of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation’s history.

The event prompted some theaters showing the new Batman film to increase security. According to the Associated Press, some fans were nervous about going to see the film, but many others were undeterred by the tragedy.

Two police officers were stationed outside the AMC theater in New York’s Times Square, which had showings beginning every 20 minutes Friday, the AP reported. Later in the day, the officers gave way to a police cruiser that was parked out front with an officer in it. At the Regal Gallery Place multiplex in downtown Washington, theater employees searched patrons’ bags and purses while taking their tickets.

Johnson City Police Sgt. Louis Nelson, who coordinates off-duty police work at Carmike Cinemas, said there was an officer working for the midnight showing Thursday night.

Carmike has 14 theaters in its facility in Johnson City.

“It’s standard to have an officer working (off-duty) Friday and Saturday night,” Nelson said. “The midnight opening was the theater’s request.”

Nelson also said he spoke with Carmike management to confirm an officer would be working this weekend and to reiterate the businesses policy that allows employees to search bags or backpacks.

Maj. Karl Turner said because Carmike is a private business, security is up to the management. “As far as (that) theater, there are officers who work off-duty” and are paid directly by the theater, he said.

He said Johnson City is not immune from a similar tragedy that occurred in Colorado, but officers are trained to respond to that type of situation.

“We plan for things like that. We plan for the worst,” he said.

Depending on the sponsors of other local events that draw large crowds, Turner said the security could fall completely on the police department. Events like the Fourth of July fireworks show and outdoor movies at Winged Deer Park are kept safe and secure by the department, he said.

Paul Wylie is the owner of Real to Reel Theatre in Johnson City, the only other theater in the city. He also owns the Tri-Cities 7 Cinemas in Blountville and a theater in Knoxville. The only one that did not show the new Batman movie the night of the massacre was Real to Reel.

Wylie does not hire security at his theaters and said in his 50 years in the business he has never had any trouble.

“There ain’t no accounting for, you know, a crazy person popping up anywhere and doing anything,” Wylie said. “And if a policeman was standing there he couldn’t spot a nut.”

He does not plan to cancel showings of the Batman movie at the Knoxville or Blountville theaters.

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