After MoMA stabbing, museums revise their security protocols

Karissa Francis has seen her fair share of drama in the seven years she worked as a visitor services assistant in museum foyers.

Customers whose tickets have gone missing or who disagree with pandemic mask requirements have been known to express frustration. But she had seen nothing close to what happened Saturday afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, where two employees were stabbed by a man after the institution revoked their membership.

“The way it happened was almost worse than my worst fear,” said Francis, who works at the Whitney Museum of American Art and saw video of the attack. “The way he rushed down the hall – there’s something so personal about the way he stabbed them as opposed to some other form of violence. It adds an extra layer of terror.

Given the rarity of violence in museums, most are protected by security guards who are generally unarmed and able to detect and respond to events – but they are not equipped to do more than report an armed intruder. .

The Museum of Modern Art did not respond to questions about its security measures, but the guard who responded on Saturday – and threw something that looked like a binder at the assailant to distract him – did not appear to have any concerns. ‘armed.

Some cultural institutions have panic buttons at their ticketing locations that alert management and perhaps a few security guards with firearms posted near the main entrances, said Steven Keller, who has worked in museum security for over for 40 years and advises organizations like the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. But few guards are armed, for obvious reasons, he said.

“The last thing you want is a shootout with 5,000 kids in attendance,” Keller said.

As for whether museums could install bulletproof glass around their visitors after the MoMA stabbing, that is also unlikely, he said, given the rarity of such an event and the interest of museums in presenting a welcoming face.

Drew Neckar, a security consultant, agreed that acts of violence are so rare in museums that the industry standard for New York’s museums – and the city’s office buildings – is that security personnel is usually unarmed.

Guns involve “more risk and huge expense,” Neckar said. “Scheduling someone with weapons costs two or three times as much because of training and liability costs.”

Typically, MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have armed New York City police outside their main entrances during business hours. But security experts said Saturday’s attack by an assailant who entered through a side door happened so quickly that no one had time to react. The man immediately jumped over the ticket office, pinning three people behind a desk, and began stabbing and swinging his knife, injuring one employee in the neck and another in the left collarbone. The museum guard then tried to distract him. A witness said the assailant asked the guard where his gun was before fleeing.

On Tuesday, the New York Police Department announced that a suspect in the stabbings, Gary Cabana, had been arrested in Philadelphia. The museum released a statement hours later, saying: “We are relieved and grateful that our colleagues are recovering and that the attacker has been arrested.”

Credit…Philadelphia Police Department, via Associated Press

While acts of violence are rare, officials at several county museums said the MoMA attack certainly raised concerns. “We are strengthening our security procedures throughout the museum in light of what happened at MoMA,” said Norman Keyes, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Maida Rosenstein, president of Local 2110, a section of the United Automobile Workers union that includes MoMA visitor services employees, said museum workers were still nervous. Next week, union leaders hope to conduct a health and safety inspection of the museum to see what additional measures, if any, could be put in place to protect workers from a future attack. Rosenstein said the museum has also hired advisers to support its staff members and is reviewing procedures.

“We want to push for measures that would improve workplace safety,” Rosenstein said, adding that she has spoken to other museums where she represents workers, such as the Guggenheim, about safety. “Our focus right now is on supporting our members.”

Like many other museums, MoMA has experienced a staff shortage in his security department after offering early retirement packages after the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear how many security guards the museum has now because the museum declined to answer that question this week.

In the industry, guards and tour guides tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale and the brutal attack highlighted the potential risk associated with jobs in contact with the public at a time when many museum workers joined new unions in search of higher wages.

The starting hourly wage for MoMA guards, who have long been represented by Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, is $21.65. Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently raised the starting pay for guards to $16.50 from $15.51 an hour. A Met spokesperson said that over the past month the museum has boosted its security staff to 340 with the hiring of 40 new guards, who have been represented for years by District Council Local 1503 37, a union primarily for public employees.

Seattle Art Museum guards only announced plans in January to form a collective bargaining unit to seek higher wages, better benefits and improved security protocols.

Josh Davis, a guard at the Seattle Art Museum and organizer of a potential new union, said that, like security personnel at museums across the country, the MoMA attack has led guards at its institutions to review their own protocols. Davis said Seattle’s system for handling potentially dangerous customers relies on approval from the chain of command, which may be too slow to resolve immediate threats. He added that the loss of long-serving security guards during the pandemic has prevented new employees from learning best practices from more experienced guards.

But the Seattle Museum has defended its practices, saying in a statement that its security measures include plexiglass screens installed as barriers at the ticket office, preparedness training for various circumstances, including instructions to “radio for assistance from rescue if a visitor becomes agitated or overtly aggressive.” Next week, he said, staff members will begin receiving de-escalation training.

“The Seattle Art Museum,” the statement said, “takes the safety and security of our staff and facilities very seriously and will continue to do so, especially in light of the horrific incident at MoMA over the weekend. last”.

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