Are You Safe At California Theme Parks?

When Disneyland first opened in Anaheim 62 years ago, counterfeit tickets were everywhere. Today, counterfeit tickets are still a top priority for security personnel at the world-famous theme park. And counterfeit tickets are only one of the many security concerns at southern California’s theme parks. Shoplifting is a huge problem at Universal Studios, while car burglary is the leading crime problem at Knott’s Berry Farm. At Disneyland, counterfeit money is more common than credit card fraud.

These are the findings of Los Angeles Times researchers who analyzed over 3,700 police reports from California theme parks from 2014 through the first half of 2016. Yes, you are statistically less likely to have your purse snatched or your car burglarized at a theme park than in downtown Los Angeles. Southern California’s theme parks have built a reputation for absolute intolerance of even petty mischief and wrongdoing. That reputation makes criminals think twice before committing crimes at the theme parks, according to park security spokespersons.

Still, there’s enough crime at the theme parks to keep security forces quite busy. “We work in close collaboration with local law enforcement and are vigilant in protecting our guests while delivering a memorable guest experience,” Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown told the Times. Obviously, the challenges for these officers are more daunting during peak travel periods and holidays.

WHAT TOOLS ARE THEME PARKS USING TO REDUCE CRIME?

Closed-circuit cameras are an important tool for alerting theme park security officers about crimes in progress. James Kollar, a former Secret Service agent, directed security at Disneyland for two and a half years. “When you go through the security process to get into the park, it already puts a mind-set that you are being watched,” he explains. “That’s basically how it’s successful.”

Another way that theme park authorities work to fight crime is by insisting that all employees, even the food vendors and janitors, are to keep an eye out for criminal or merely suspicious behavior. “Everybody has got their eyes out looking for things,” Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety expert who founded Crowd Management Strategies, told the Times. “You also need great communications for instant response.”

In the thirty months from January 2014 through June 2016, no homicides were reported at Universal Studios Hollywood, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, or at Six Flags Magic Mountain. However, five rapes were reported along with 156 aggravated assaults – and 118 of those assaults were at Disneyland. For obvious reasons, theme park executives are reluctant to discuss the specific details of crimes or security measures.

Security officers at California theme parks work hard to maintain a low profile. They want park visitors to feel safe but not “surveilled.” Disneyland security officers wear white shirts and brimmed hats. Uniformed Anaheim police enter the park rarely, and only when they’ve been called there by Disney security. James DeMeo, speaking for Unified Sports and Entertainment Security Consulting, told the Times, “You want to create a pleasant patron experience without creating an overzealous police state.”

WHAT IS THE TOP CONCERN FOR THEME PARK SECURITY TODAY?

However, the rising threat of terrorism is now on the minds of theme park security teams, and it’s probably why Disneyland and Universal Studios installed metal detectors in 2015 even though gun and weapons violence at the parks is almost non-existent. “We want our guests to feel safe when they visit our theme park, and this is a natural progression for us as we apply best practices for security in today’s world,” according to Universal spokeswoman Audrey Eig.

Disneyland has also banned visitors from carrying toy guns in the park, and visitors over age 14 may no longer wear costumes or masks that hide their identities. Disneyland also no longer sells replica guns. San Diego doctor James Hogan, a frequent Disneyland visitor, says, “it’s totally necessary. It’s remarkable something hasn’t already happened in the parks. Disneyland is a very happy place for millions, and a shooting or some other tragedy could change that forever.”

The crimes at theme parks are predominantly petty crimes related to the theft or destruction of property – vandalism, purse snatching, shoplifting, pickpocketing, and auto burglary – according to the Times’ assessment of theme park crimes over the thirty-month period. But each park seems to be plagued by a single particular crime. At Six Flags Magic Mountain, it’s the theft of purses and backpacks that guests leave unsecured when boarding roller coasters and other rides.

Most theme park crimes are unplanned and spontaneous crimes of opportunity. At Knott’s Berry Farm, auto burglary is the leading crime. At Universal Studios, more than 40 percent of the crimes are petty thefts such as shoplifting. The shopping district, Universal CityWalk, has been routinely targeted by shoplifters, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Robert Wiard.

And while Disneyland also sees its share of shoplifters and petty thieves, counterfeiting is overwhelmingly the leading crime there. In the 30-month period analyzed by Times researchers, 106 efforts to pass counterfeit money to food and retail vendors were reported. The FBI says that counterfeiting and fraud constitute approximately 1.5 percent of all crimes reported in the U.S. but about 6 percent of the crimes reported at Disneyland. Southern California’s other theme parks have experienced counterfeiting but not anywhere near as frequently as Disneyland.

If you are accused of committing a crime at a Southern California theme park, get in touch with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, and understand that being charged is not the equivalent of being convicted. When parks are crowded, it’s easy for security personnel to get distracted and confused, and occasionally, the wrong person gets arrested. If this happens to you, let a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney help.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST THEME PARK CRIME?

In fact, if you’re one of the 297 million people who will visit a theme park in the United States this year, it should be a genuinely relaxing and delightful adventure. These recommendations and suggestions should help you protect yourself and your family from crime at southern California’s theme parks:

  • Lock your vehicle: Have an alarm system and an anti-theft device. Don’t leave anything visible that might tempt a thief.
  • Buddy up: Don’t visit a theme park by yourself, and don’t become separated from the people you’re with. Criminals are far more likely to target a lone individual.
  • Know the park: Know where the security office is located and how to contact security personnel.
  • Obey the rules and avoid restricted areas: When you are where you’re supposed to be and doing what you’re supposed to do, you are far less likely to be a crime victim at a Southern California theme park.
By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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