Concealed Weapons A Concern For Businesses

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although none have added metal detectors, and all hope they never will, businesses owners have started reviewing their security programs since the controversial concealed weapons law took effect on July 1.

Even though the “have-gun-will-travel” statute prohibits carriers from taking firearms into entertainment venues, like the Van Andel Arena, and establishments that sell alcohol, like most downtown restaurants, managers of these businesses know that not everyone follows the law every time. Because of that, they need to provide a secure environment for all their customers — no matter how they, or their clientele, personally feel about the law.

“It’s definitely something that we’re aware of. We’ve had brief conversations with CAA members, as well as (Police) Chief (Harry) Dolan and members of the police department,” said Rich MacKeigan, SMG general manager of the arena and Grand Center, two buildings owned by the Convention and Arena Authority (CAA).

“The reality is, for some events, we are already using metal detectors and pat-down searches,” he added. “It really is event specific.”

So which events draw extra security? MacKeigan said choices are made by looking at recent performances of upcoming artists at other venues to determine what the audience was like and if there were any problems with the event. If there were, or if a possibility for one existed, then extra personnel and K-9 units are brought in and hand-held metal detectors are used at entrances.

The most recent arena event that had the beefed-up security, provided by DK Security of Grand Rapids, was a metal rock concert held on June 29.

But MacKeigan doesn’t see the need to apply the added measures to every event at the arena or Grand Center. Nor is he interested in doing that. MacKeigan doesn’t want every customer to feel like they’re suspect and the buildings to look like detention centers.

“If we did our homework and found it necessary to do it for every single event, we absolutely would,” he said. “But there is a lot to be said for doing your homework and treating each event on an individual basis, and that’s how we run our venues.”

Nor is panic setting in at Old Kent Park in Comstock Park or Berlin Speedway in Marne. Lew Chamberlin, co-owner of the West Michigan Whitecaps and the oval track, said his management team and security personnel are aware of the situation.

“Certainly it’s been a topic of discussion. I can’t say that we have a clear idea of any changes in policy in mind right now,” he said. “Whether this is going to require us to make some adjustments, we’ll just have to wait and see.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions with our security people. But they haven’t presented us with any finite answers on what we should or shouldn’t do.”

Chamberlin emphasized, however, that he wouldn’t hesitate to make security changes at either site if he learned some were warranted.

“If our security does come to us with specific recommendations, or if it turns out there are issues that seem to be arising out of this, then, of course, we’re going to take some immediate steps,” he said.

Greg Gilmore, president of the Gilmore Group of restaurants, which owns The BOB, downtown’s largest entertainment center at 20 Monroe Ave. NW, said concealed weapons are a concern for him. Not just at The BOB, but at all his company’s eateries. In fact, Gilmore discussed safety measures with his staff just last week.

“Security is always a big concern no matter where we are, whether that’s here or in Grand Haven,” he said. “But for us, a lot of the changes that we’re making are going to, I think, drive us a little more toward the restaurant business versus the nightclub business.”

The BOB is undergoing an expansion that will give the three-story complex more space for dining and less for clubbing, although the building will still showcase musical talent and let customers dance. The work should be completed in September.

“So we’re naturally progressing toward a more secure environment, because I think the restaurant patrons are typically a little more responsible than nightclub patrons,” said Gilmore, who added that he had no plan to install metal detectors.

Dan Schneider, manager of Z’s Bar and Restaurant at 168 Louis Campau Promenade, told the Business Journal that the first thing he thought of when he heard the bill became law was “whether I needed to install a metal detector.” Like the others, he hopes not. Schneider said there hasn’t been a need for one yet, as Z’s serves an older clientele.

Besides, as Schneider and Gilmore pointed out, with or without the law in place, a customer could still carry a handgun into a restaurant and no one would necessarily know.

“You know, people break the law every day,” said Gilmore. “If they want to carry a concealed weapon, I don’t see the difference between having a permit and not having a permit.”

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