Monday, August 16, 2004

HOMELAND INSECURITY The following Q & A appeared as part of the FYI column in the City section (distributed in New York City only) of Sunday's New York Times.
Q. For the past few years, on weekdays, one to three cars with government plates have often been parked next to the armed forces recruiting station on the expanded sidewalks in Times Square. Last year there were even lines painted for parking spaces. This is legal?

A. A recruiting officer in the station said the cars were government vehicles used on the job by the recruiting officers.

You might think a regulation or an official permission existed to explain the presence of the cars. But apparently not.

Tom Cocola, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation, responded to an inquiry with the following message: "We will speak to the local precinct about enforcement, for we don't want vehicles to park in this space, either."

Calls to the police for a response were not returned.

Let's break this down:

We're talking here about some of the most trafficked real estate in America--from a security standpoint, it's no exaggeration to call the space outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Center the most sensitive patch of sidewalk in the entire country.

And what have we learned from The Times?

That several 3,000+ pound metal boxes have been stationed in this delicate area without the city's permission--indeed, illegally--on and off for the last couple years.

THAT SAID: Maybe the local police precinct has a deal worked out with the recruiters. Maybe their license plates are on file, their cars are routinely inspected, and the men themselves have been thoroughly vetted and screened.

On the other hand, maybe the cops at the precinct house just aren't keen on confronting military men--especially over something as minor as a few improvised parking spots.

I know where I'd put my money.

NOW: One of the things we were supposed to have learned from 9/11 is that blind faith does not constitute a security program.

The point is not that the recruiters involved ought to be suspected of being terrorists. It's that their military credentials shouldn't buy them exemption from common sense precautions.

To put it simply: If there are going to be 3,000 pound metal boxes parked in the middle of Times Square, they ought to be have an awfully good reason to be there. And they should be inspected regularly--whoever happens to own them.

If we can't get something this simple right, how are we ever going to meet the more difficult security challenges?

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.