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Rethinking Security In Public Places


And police in Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities say they're bolstering security for concerts, sporting events and marathons this weekend in the wake of the Las Vegas attack. That massacre was carried out by a man shooting from a high-rise position in a hotel at thousands of people at a concert below. The shooting has sparked police and the public to rethink what more might be done to improve security at public events and places. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Las Vegas.

ERIC WESTERVELT: At one of the many night vigils here this week, there were prayers songs and candles for the 58 people murdered - citizens coming together in a tree-dotted suburban park to honor the dead while wondering what the nightmarish attack might mean for the living. Las Vegas resident Judd Dagh (ph), a father of two, says we've gotten used to metal detectors, pat-downs and security lines at airports and concerts. Maybe hotels are next.

JUDD DAGH: Isn't that sad, though, that we're going to go to a hotel and be scanned like we're getting on a plane? To think that we all have to give up our rights because of these situations or, you know, the ability to move around, to have that freedom, that liberty - that's a tough trade. And I wouldn't trade it frankly.

WESTERVELT: Churches, marathons, softball games and more have all been targeted by killers in recent years. Nearby as children push their legs to the night sky on squeaky swing sets, Diane Likers (ph) thoughts were on what comes next.

DIANE LIKERS: Maybe they should start checking people's luggage when you go into a hotel. The guy brought in ten things of luggage and hid him so while in the room, the people that went in, the maids, couldn't find the luggage.

WESTERVELT: It's not clear what maids at the Mandalay Bay saw or didn't see in the shooter's 32nd floor room. But Stephen Paddock did easily bring in 23 weapons along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. Casinos and hotels here known for their robust but unobtrusive security - lots of cameras barely visible, undercover security agents walking to the casino floors but nothing to deter from the boozy, gambling, let-your-wallet-all-hang-out vibe. And while companies here have long trained for active shooter scenarios inside a casino, a man with an arsenal in his room, popping out of high-rise windows to rain bullets on a festival below was not top on the list of worries. Lenny Davis, director of investigations for a security firm here, thinks there is a fix that would fit with the quiet security setting of Vegas and hotels across the country - something that's common in cities such as Islamabad and Amman, Jordan.

LENNY DAVIS: The only thing I could see that would have stopped this animal from killing these people - if you check into the hotel before you go up in the tower and to your room - that the bags are run through an X-ray machine. That would have deterred this. That's the only thing that could.

WESTERVELT: Arguably, the most effective tool to help protect big public gatherings, snipers, is often already used for big parades, sporting events and concerts. But more of them might prove an expensive and hard-to-implement fix for small or medium-sized venues and cities, says David Katz, head of the consulting firm Global Security Group.

DAVID KATZ: The fastest countermeasure is to have a well-trained rifleman take a shot and put the shooter down. That's the fastest most expeditious way that requires a high level of skill. The question is, at what point do you say, OK, this is a venue that's worth the time and effort? This is a venue that might be targeted.

WESTERVELT: Las Vegas parent Judd Dagh (ph) has the same question. And he wonders what might be lost if police and security professionals draw new lines on what public events need added protection in the wake of the worst mass murder in modern American history.

DAGH: So we have a little league baseball game. Is it 200 people plus? Is it 2,000 people plus? Is it 20,000, you know? Is it a confined space? Is it a open air? You know, we're reasonable people, and we need to protect ourselves. But to think that from here on out our kids are going to live a different life than we did in a dramatic way is frankly unacceptable.

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
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