- By Will Garbe Staff Writer
Top management at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center are “very comfortable with the security” at the Dayton theater and do not believe it needs to be increased following the first major disturbance at the venue in 15 years.
“We do not feel that we necessarily need to beef up security or anything else,” said Ken Neufeld, the Victoria Theatre Association chief executive, in an interview Tuesday. He said the theater often reviews security with Dayton police. “It works. We had an incident. We’ve probably done, I don’t know, 7,000 to 10,000 events since Schuster opened. And we had one incident.”
Security experts interviewed by the Dayton Daily News — including a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official — said theater management should use the incident as an opportunity to review safety protocol.
“This could be an anomaly, but any situation is a good learning experience,” said John Cohen, the former Homeland Security deputy undersecretary for intelligence and analysis. “What I would hope is the venue takes a step back and a hard look to see if there are any adjustments in security that need to be made.”
Multiple fights were reported in the center’s lobby Friday night after a comedy show. Social media video of the fights appeared to show, among other incidents, a person on the ground repeatedly punched by another person as some guests attempted to intervene. Other guests watched the unfolding brawl.
Neufeld said shows at the theater typically have two armed, off-duty police officers on scene dressed in plain clothes, in addition to third-party security. Neufeld said he did not know if the officers were inside or outside the venue when the fight broke out, but said it was “entirely possible” they were stationed outside helping patrons.
Dayton police Maj. Wendy Stiver, in an interview Tuesday, told the newspaper she was only aware of one off-duty officer at the theater.
“There was one off-duty officer working that night,” Stiver said. “As soon as he was alerted to the fact there was a fight, he responded. There are reasonable limitations as to what one person can do in a fight situation. We train our officers that you don’t run into a fight yourself.”
Stiver said on-duty officers who were called to the Schuster Center arrived in four minutes, but did not make a report until the next day when a reported victim came forward.
“Nobody at the time of the initial call made themselves known to us as victims, and nobody presented themselves and said, ‘I’m injured, I was assaulted, I’d like to make a report,’” Stiver said. “We were actually contacted the next day by a victim who said they wanted to make a report.”
“Once we became aware of the injury, obviously, once we saw the videos, there was a clear need to conduct a criminal investigation,” she said. A Dayton police detective is assigned to investigate the fight, she said.
The preliminary investigation, Stiver said, shows that the altercation was “an isolated incident resulting from a personal conflict unrelated to the show” and “is not an indication of the safety at the venue.”
Doug Chisholm, the Cedarville University director of security, said he believes having two off-duty police officers on scene is reasonable at a venue like the Schuster Center, which has a capacity of more than 2,000 people. He also said he likes to have uniformed officers visible at large events on campus.
“I like to have some uniformed officers just because people recognize they are security,” Chisholm said. “It can be a good deterrent and if something does happen, they know who to run to.”
Stiver said the police department “has a good working relationship” with the Victoria Theater Association and “would be willing to support” having uniformed officers at the Schuster Center if the organization desired.
The balance between providing a secure venue and enjoyable entertainment is a challenge for many public spaces, said Cohen, the former Homeland Security official. Increasingly, he said, venues are working to integrate security into their overall brand.
“This is the challenge being faced by those that operate entertainment venues,” said Cohen, now a Rutgers University professor. “They have to be able to provide the public an entertainment venue that allows them to enjoy the show and be entertained, and at the same time provide an atmosphere that makes the attendees feel safe.”
“There’s an important business reason to do this as well,” he said. “What venue owners have come to realize is if people do not feel safe attending an event at your venue, people won’t come to venue, and if they don’t come to venue, you don’t make money.”
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