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Security at movie theaters comes into focus in wake of shootings

Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET: Questions about security at the nation's movie theaters arose Friday in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shootings that left 12 dead and 58 injured at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

A spokesperson for The National Association of Theatre Owners, the organization that includes more than 30,000 movie screens across the country, said that it would ultimately be up to individual theater companies to make decisions about new or permanent security policies.

"At this moment we’re just responding to what happened and we’ll be talking to our members and it’s up to individual members," NATO’s Gary Kline told NBC News. "At this time we’re extending our prayers to the families and victims and awaiting more information." In the meantime, NATO says that members "are working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing procedures."

Cinemark Holdings, which owns the Century 16 Movie Theaters where the shootings took place, issued a statement which expresses gratitude toward local law enforcement, but no specifics about security changes. "Cinemark is deeply saddened about this tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees, and the Aurora community. We are grateful for the quick and professional reaction of all local law enforcement and emergency responders. Cinemark is working closely with the Aurora Police Department and local law enforcement."

As details about the shooting and the motives of the suspect, James Eagan Holmes, continue to emerge, former FBI profiler and NBC News analyst Clint Van Zandt said that most, but not all, theaters will be forced to do something substantial to ensure the safety of their patrons.

"You can say the first time that it’s a tragedy no one would anticipate. From a liability standpoint and an insurance standpoint they’re going to be required to implement something," Van Zandt said. "But I don’t see every movie theater ready to make that move. It’s so intrusive that on the chance of one event you won’t move to that. But I guarantee you every theater organization is going to be forced to have a discussion about it, make a decision."

Even though there will be heightened security at some theaters this weekend, it should be noted that there are always security measures in place, even if they aren’t immediately visible.

"In our theaters all our team members are trained in standard security measures. Some are visible, some are not," said Terrell Mayton, Carmike Cinema’s head of marketing. "We have law enforcement in uniform and plain clothes agents. We pay very close attention to it (security) but now everyone is looking again at their security, there’s no question about that. But part of security is what people don’t know."

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying it would provide high-visibility patrols at major theaters, as well as other sporting events, concerts and crowded venues and that its presence woul include both uniformed and undercover officers.

"I am outraged by the cowardly attack on innocent movie patrons in Colorado last night" said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck." Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those innocent victims. Since Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, it is important that we all remain vigilant and do everything we can to prevent incidents like this from occurring in our communities."

The New York Police Department was quick to issue a statement announcing that future screenings of "The Dark Knight Rises" would have an increased security presence. "As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the 'The Dark Knight Rises' is playing in the five boroughs."

According to The Associated Press, a sampling of theaters across the country showed the addition of some additional security measures in the wake of the shooting.

Two police officers were stationed outside the AMC theater in New York's Times Square, which had showings of the film beginning every 20 minutes, 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, the AP reports that moviegoers trickled into an 11 a.m. showing and theater employees searched patrons' bags and purses while taking their tickets. And at the United Artists Riverview Stadium 17 in Philadelphia, a steady stream of people headed in for morning showings and staff members said that there was extra security, but that that was normal for big movies -- and not because of the shooting.

AMC Theatres told Deadline Hollywood that it will reinforce its security measures, not allowing any guests into theaters “in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings.” AMC said, “we’re reinforcing our security procedures with our theatre teams, which we cannot discuss in detail for obvious, safety reasons. Local law enforcement agencies, our landlords and their and our local security teams are stepping up nationwide to ensure we provide the safest environment possible for our guests ... .”

The fact that a gunman was able to open fire in a public place left lingering questions about not only the prospect of bag searches and metal detectors at theaters, but whether movies themselves might be to blame. According to witnesses, the shots fired in the theater coincided with a particularly violent scene in "Dark Knight Rises" -- so much so that initially it was difficult to discern that the gunshots were indeed real.

"I have dealt with too many people over the years who have told me they got the idea from a movie, TV, or having someone else having done it," Van Zandt said. "So do movies make people commit acts of violence? The answer is in the vast majority of cases, no. But there’s a lot of people with a rich fantasy world ... All they need is a little push and for those people movies of violence, assault and things like that can be that push ... We’re searching trying to ID this guy’s motivation and there are multiple factors."

According to statistics published by the Poynter Institute, 1.23 billion movie tickets were sold in North America in 2011. And as Van Zandt says, "Going to movies -- it’s still a very safe thing to do."

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