Heightened security at the ballpark

The Philadelphia Phillies’ mascot is screened by security for the media before an exhibition game in early April. New Major League Baseball rules require all spectators be scanned before entering its stadiums. Matt Slocum | AP

If you go to a baseball game, you’ll have to pass through metal detectors. Major League Baseball this year has expanded its security procedures that it tried out late last season.

The Twins, because of last year’s All-Star Game, were ahead of the curve on the effort. They installed the detectors at all gates last summer.

Is there a big problem at ballgames? No, security expert Bruce Schneier argues in the Washington Post today, it’s just part of the theater to make you feel safer from a threat that isn’t that big to begin with.

There’s no evidence that this new measure makes anyone safer. A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium.

For that matter, a bomb exploded at a crowded checkpoint would be no less deadly than one exploded in the stands. These measures will, at best, be effective at stopping the random baseball fan who’s carrying a gun or knife into the stadium.

That may be a good idea, but unless there’s been a recent spate of fan shootings and stabbings at baseball games — and there hasn’t — this is a whole lot of time and money being spent to combat an imaginary threat.

But imaginary threats are the only ones baseball executives have to stop this season; there’s been no specific terrorist threat or actual intelligence to be concerned about. MLB executives forced this change on ballparks based on unspecified discussions with the Department of Homeland Security after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Because, you know, that was also a sporting event.

What’s behind the effort? Schneier says it’s baseball’s and the federal government’s plan to deny responsibility if something should happen at a ballgame. Because they did something.

In reality, this is CYA security, and it’s pervasive in post-9/11 America. It no longer matters if a security measure makes sense, if it’s cost-effective or if it mitigates any actual threats.

All that matters is that you took the threat seriously, so if something happens you won’t be blamed for inaction. It’s security, all right — security for the careers of those in charge.

I’m not saying that these officials care only about their jobs and not at all about preventing terrorism, only that their priorities are skewed.

They imagine vague threats, and come up with correspondingly vague security measures intended to address them. They experience none of the costs. They’re not the ones who have to deal with the long lines and confusion at the gates. They’re not the ones who have to arrive early to avoid the messes the new policies have caused around the league.

And if fans spend more money at the concession stands because they’ve arrived an hour early and have had the food and drinks they tried to bring along confiscated, so much the better, from the team owners’ point of view.

“We were one of the last sports to come to this,” Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio told USA Today. “We’re so focused on baseball being a family sport, a feel good sport. In some regard, not having some of the hooliganism that you see in other sports, we were probably the last major sport to address these things. The answer is if you didn’t make changes and you have an incident anywhere, you’d surely regret that.”

“We not only have to be concerned about foreign terrorist organizations that operate with centralized command and control,” former Homeland Security counterterrorism boss John Cohen tells the New York Times. “What is different today is these terror organizations are very sophisticated in the use of social media and other campaigns that are intended to simply inspire people to act on their own.”