Miami-Dade County

After Orlando carnage, what are clubs doing to boost security?

Security checks people entering the Old National Centre in Indianapolis, Ind., before a vigil, Sunday, June 12, 2016, to remember those who died and were injured in the Orlando mass shooting at the Pulse, a gay nightclub just south of downtown Orlando.
Security checks people entering the Old National Centre in Indianapolis, Ind., before a vigil, Sunday, June 12, 2016, to remember those who died and were injured in the Orlando mass shooting at the Pulse, a gay nightclub just south of downtown Orlando. AP

Don’t expect surveillance drones the way Paris responded to a terrorist attack in November. The ban of assault weapons enacted in Australia after a 1996 rampage by a lone gunman in Tasmania that killed 35 people isn’t likely, either. Metal detectors at nighclubs, not unlike those you pass through at sporting venues and some concert halls, are also not being immediately rolled in.

But in the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s carnage by two gunmen in Orlando — 49 killed at Pulse, a gay bar, on Sunday morning, the worst mass shooting in American history, and the murder of pop singer Christina Grimmie of The Voice fame on Friday night as she signed autographs post-concert at The Plaza Live — expect some added security measures.

At nightclubs, adjustments could be wands to detect metal, more security guards and more communication with police.

South Florida remains on heightened alert. Several club owners are reconsidering how much security is enough to prevent similar tragedies and calm nervous patrons without turning them off with too many obstacles to entry.

“Bigger clubs do need to have more heightened security measures in place. Smaller places like Do Not Sit on the Furniture need to boost security measures, but we also can’t make our customers feel uncomfortable for coming into our establishments,” said Megan Nazari, owner of Do Not Sit on the Furniture, a club on 16th Street in Miami Beach. “We can’t live in a constant fear of something bad happening. People come to clubs to let loose and have a good time and I don’t want to take this away in any shape or form.”

Nevertheless, the intimate venue does have security at the door at all times, Nazari said. Bags are searched, especially larger ones or back packs. “We will be more careful about checking all bags and suspicious activities.” A metal detector and pat downs, however, are not on tap.

“I don’t think pat downs are necessary unless our security personnel have reason to do one,” Nazari said in an email to the Miami Herald.

POLICE COMMUNICATION

Open communication with local police is a key strategy, some owners say.

“Since the attack, we've been in touch with the Miami-Beach police. They've been increasing their presence around the outside of the bar, sometimes they've come inside to check everything out, said Aquiton Baptista, manager at The Palace, an open-air gay bar on Ocean Drive.

“Police came here yesterday and today; came in and out of the bar last night to check up on things. They've been very helpful,” Twist co-owner Richard Trainor said on Monday afternoon about his long-running gay bar that sits across the street from the Miami Beach police station on Washington Avenue and 10th Street.

Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez acknowledged that presence was boosted. Police Chief Daniel Oates and Detective Juan Sanchez, the department’s LGBT liaison, visited LGBT nightclubs Sunday to talk with owners and management.

Not just gay bars. “We have relationships with all of our different communities,” Rodriguez said. “We are proactive in that sense. We don’t wait for a tragedy to develop. We develop these contacts and we’re a tight-knit community. They know us and we know them.”

But on Sunday, as residents woke to news of the tragedy in Orlando and emotions ran high, some of the Palace patrons were freaked out by a car that was camping out all day, but it turned out to be nothing, Baptista said. On Friday, Saturday and Sundays, the club employs five security officers who are stationed at different locations around the bar. They are all unarmed. They aren’t supposed to use force to eject people.

“Last night was really emotional,” Baptista said Monday afternoon. “Many of the people that work here or come here often had friends who had been killed, or they would have a friend of a friend who had. We're a gay bar, we don't really have fights like straight bars do.”

But Pulse in Orlando could likely have made the same statement before 2:02 a.m. Sunday morning. That’s when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard from Port St. Lucie, stormed into Pulse with an assault rifle and a handgun. The toll: 49 dead and 53 wounded. Police shot him dead in a gun battle after they engaged in a three-hour standoff with the man who, Mateen’s father said, had become incensed after seeing two men kissing at Bayside Marketplace in Miami earlier this year.

“It was just crazy seeing that the guy had come to Miami and gotten upset at two men kissing in public. It just made us think that that could've been us,” Baptista said. The Orlando tragedy “could maybe change the amount of security we use, but not really the way we do security. Our main concern is that we're an open door bar. There's no way to shut someone out if we needed to. Last night, we had 300 people here. What if someone like [Mateen] showed up? We would have nowhere to go.”

LOW-DOWN SECURITY

Several miles north, the venerable Fontainebleau Miami Beach on 44th and Collins attracts sizable crowds for rock and pop concerts by acts like Heart, Blondie and Andy Grammer to its indoor LIV bar. For these premium concerts it’s standing-room-only as audiences, on two-levels that front a stage, elbow up to open bars and pay premium prices for tickets.

“Our security department is in constant communication with police authorities to ensure maximum safety throughout the hotel. In order to maintain the effectiveness of our security measures which are in place, we do not share details of specific practices,” said Philip Goldfarb, president and chief operating officer of Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

At the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino near Hollywood, concertgoers at the popular Hard Rock Live, which features top touring acts, are wanded as they go through the turnstiles. The complex’s numerous nightclubs are protected by a fleet of officers, said Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminole Police Department and the Seminole Hard Rock.

Often, pop artists, especially developing opening acts like Grimmie, sign autographs for fans at merchandise booths inside Hard Rock Live after their performance. They do so just as Grimmie did before Kevin James Loibl, 27, of St. Petersburg, shot and killed her near the back of the Orlando venue with one of the two guns, along with a hunting knife and ammunition, he had on him. Reports say that security guards at the Plaza Live venue searched arriving concertgoers’ bags but did not use metal detectors.

Loibl killed himself with a gunshot after being tackled to the ground by Grimmie’s brother Marcus.

“Venues at the Seminole Hard Rock complex are protected by a combined force of hundreds of Seminole Police Department officers and Seminole Hard Rock security guards, who are always reviewing and improving security procedures and equipment,” Bitner said in an email to the Herald. “Security equipment at the complex includes extensive camera systems and other state-of-the-art tools to constantly monitor who is coming and going. In addition, we encourage all patrons to be alert at all times and immediately report anything suspicious.”

WANDS

Despite the close relationship with Miami Beach police, Twist, a popular draw since the early 1990s, has concrete plans to boost security, Trainor said Monday.

The club has two or three bouncers at the front door — the two-story club’s only entrance — and another bouncer in the back of the venue. Still other bouncers patrol the inside of Twist.

“We are beefing up our security force by hiring some new people and ordering several metal detector wands,” he said.

Trainor said the wands, similar to what concertgoers experience at major venues like downtown Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena, Sunrise’s BB&T Center and Broward’s Hard Rock Live, were an alternative to pat downs, which Trainor doesn't like.

“Some people have already had a couple of drinks at other bars. They don't want to be touched,” he said.

Twist staff search all small bags. Backpacks are not allowed.

"Now, we all need to look over our shoulders a little bit more, and in our case that means being more attentive at the front door with the wands,” Trainor said.

IN ISRAEL

"They're not all gonna have guns. Some people will just use a knife, like the attack that happened in Israel a couple of weeks ago. It's a different world we live in. People are going to have to change their thoughts on how safe they are and how comfortable they are,” Trainor said.

“People living in Israel today experience this kind of thing on a daily basis, but they still live normal lives — at least normal for them,” he added. “I think maybe people here are going to have to get used to that sort of thing. Having your bag searched everywhere. Metal detectors everywhere. Armed guards and soldiers everywhere.”

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