- Associated Press - Sunday, July 29, 2012

DENVER — The Colorado movie theater complex that was the scene of a gunman’s massacre this month didn’t have any uniformed security guards on duty the night of the shooting, even though other theaters operated by the same company did provide such protection for the busy premiere of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

It’s impossible to know whether guards — often off-duty police officers — at the Aurora Century 16 would have spotted the suspected gunman, James Holmes, and thwarted the attack that left 12 moviegoers dead and almost 60 wounded on July 20.

Officers hired as guards are generally armed and usually spend their time roaming the complex, checking bags or dealing with minor disputes.

Cinemark provided off-duty police guards at the Aurora theater on busy Friday and Saturday nights. As for other nights of the week, theater operators decide on a case-by-case basis whether to hire security, depending on the likelihood of trouble. The attack came early Friday, shortly after the midnight screening of the Batman film began.

Larry Lowak, whose son Brent was among the wounded, said security personnel on the scene possibly could have stopped the gunman, and he was dismayed to learn that guards weren’t on hand for the summer’s most-anticipated film.

“If you bring in security on Friday or Saturday, you sure as hell want to bring it in for this particular function,” Mr. Lowak said.

Plano, Texas-based Cinemark, which operates the Aurora theater, declined to explain why guards weren’t provided in Aurora that night and declined to discuss safety policies in general.

Through interviews with police officers and officials outside the theater company, the Associated Press was able to identify places around the country that did use armed security workers for the July 19-20 Batman showings — including places like Beaumont, Texas; Lake Charles, La., and Tupelo, Miss.

Some other locations, including a Cinema Century 16 theater in the western Denver suburb of Lakewood, did not have security.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates has said that the Cinemark in Aurora normally uses off-duty officers to provide security on weekend nights but did not have any working for the July 19 showings that went into the next morning.

The theater does not have an unusually high record of complaints or crimes, police Sgt. Cassidee Carlson said.

In Moosic, Pa., Cinemark has worked for years with off-duty officers from the local police department — typically on Fridays and Saturdays — and authorities said they were asked to provide two officers on July 19 because the midnight showing was likely to be a major event.

“If they’re expecting large crowds, they call our department for additional police presence,” Moosic Borough Police Officer James Giehl said.

Two major multiplexes in Amarillo, Texas, including one Cinemark facility, also ensured that off-duty uniformed police officers were present for the first screenings of the Batman film.

Amarillo Police Cpl. Jerry Neufeld said that the off-duty officers work in pairs; the town’s theaters made a point of asking for them on the busy opening night.

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