Niles: Can new rules at Knott’s, Six Flags really help keep guests safe?

Do bag checks really help keep theme park visitors safe or are they just another example of security theater?

Many theme parks across the country are tightening their rules on the bags that visitors can bring into their parks. Knott’s Berry Farm now limits Scary Farm visitors to a bag no larger than 6.5 inches by 4.5 inches by 2 inches, which is about the size of a clutch purse. That policy now extends to some of Knott’s sibling Cedar Fair parks across the country.

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Six Flags is more generous with its new bag policy, which limits bags to no larger than 12 inches by 12 inches by 6 inches during its Fright Fest event. Since Fright Fest is not a separately-ticketed event, Six Flags also is allowing larger diaper bags for visitors who come with young children during the day.

The new policies followed a string of recent security incidents, including last summer’s mass panic at Knott’s, another last month at Carowinds, outside Charlotte, N.C., as well as shootings in or near Chicago’s Six Flags Great America and Pittsburgh’s Kennywood. Knott’s and some other parks also have implemented mandatory chaperone policies in addition to the new bag restrictions.

But the items that sparked last summer’s security incidents — cell phones, handguns and, perhaps, alcohol — can fit into even the smaller bags still allowed in the parks. Or into a pocket, if a guest wishes to skip carrying a bag entirely. Park personnel must search the bags and the people entering their parks to best protect their guests’ and employees’ safety.

That is where a small bag policy can help, since small bags presumably can be easier and quicker to check than larger ones. Smaller bags also mean more space for people in the crowded queues and scare zones. Personally, I much prefer visiting parks without a bag, but I recognize that I come to that preference from a position of great privilege. I am a man who does not need to carry menstrual products or medications. My children are long grown, so I no longer need to haul in diapers, wipes, bottles, pacifiers and a change of clothes when visiting with them.

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Ultimately, a park’s greatest tool against security incidents might not be a bag policy, or even airport-style screeners. It might be price.

Perhaps it is not coincidence that these types of incidents tend to happen at more affordable parks and not at the higher-priced Disney and Universal destinations. Whether a fight is staged or real, it’s easier to throw down in a place without an eye-watering cover charge. Parks can’t just price their way to safety, however. If a park doesn’t back up Disney-level prices with Disney-level attractions, it won’t just be the troublemakers who stay away.

That leaves Knott’s and other parks to experiment with bag restrictions, chaperone policies and whatever else they can devise to tell potential troublemakers, “we are a welcoming place where you’re not welcome.”