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New York City Holiday Security - Are We Safe In Crowds?

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Homeland Security Guest Columnist: John Christopher Fine

Photos by Myriam Moran, Copyright 2010.


It took the New York City Fire Department Ambulance three traffic lights to get across Times Square from a major cross street. The surrounding area was packed with police officers. Some on foot in pairs, some standing outside patrol cars, some on horseback. None moved into the street to direct traffic against the light to make the ambulance’s passage easier. The conclusion: the police officers didn’t leave their posts. That can be a good thing but does standing around or sitting a horse really mean increased safety against terrorist attack?

It is a foregone conclusion among law enforcement experts that a random act of violence or terrorism cannot either be predicted or stopped. Airport screenings are uncommonly good at taking knitting needles away from old ladies. Recent evidence has shown systematic failures in coping with terrorists bent on causing mayhem. Body scanners raised a bevy of protest. Increased cost of air travel with surcharges to offset security costs, high levels of protection at NYPD Headquarters and courts, and increased electronic surveillance do not make us entirely safe from criminals bent on doing harm.

Bombers have been apprehended, more because of their own clumsiness than the efforts of investigators. Like the economy, confidence is not so much reality as it is perception. If the public sees a police presence then they feel safe.

One of America’s most experienced law enforcement officers and the Chairman of the National Sheriff’s Association anti-terrorism section believes in the effective use of mounted police officers. “They are a deterrent to crime. You have a ten-foot tall police officer able to see over crowds. Shoppers can see the officer. Crime goes down when we have mounted units on patrol,” Sheriff James Kralik of Rockland County, New York has said.

In that the increased numbers of police officers on patrol and on post in Times Square is salutary. Mounted officers allow their horses to be petted affectionately by passersby. The police officers chat with shoppers and offer pleasant conversation as well as security. Life is not what it was and will never be again. Perhaps it started with the first airline hijacking to Communist Cuba. The hijacker was treated as a larkster and nothing taken very seriously.

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It was a serious prelude to a focus by terrorists to capture the headlines and inflict injury and fear on large numbers of people. Terrorists have been setting off bombs in public markets in Northern Ireland for generations until a recent peace quelled the violence. The Middle East is rife with suicide bombers. America was isolated from this violence until jolted awake on September 11, 2001.

Could this increased police presence detect a Middle East terrorist in the midst of holiday shoppers in Times Square? The answer to the question is clear. If the suspect presented a profile of suspicion, acted within the training parameters of someone looking to cause trouble, drove erratically, then yes the police would intervene. Otherwise evil purpose could be accomplished by villains that are motivated by promises of life eternal.


The profile of warfare has changed. A couple, one dressed as a sailor, the girl in 1940s period costume, reenact the kissing scene in Times Square after Victory in Europe proclaimed the end of World War II. There will never be an end to the war against terrorism as there was an end to World War II. It will never stop. Peace will never come. Acts of violence will never cease. Vigilance must be maintained in a world society until there is a conclusion of hostilities of the mind. Meanwhile increased security and police presence adds to taxpayer cost. The official conclusion is that government is doing something. At least the perception is comforting.


John Christopher Fine served as Senior Assistant District Attorney in New York County. He investigated and prosecuted terrorist bombing cases and international terrorist organizations.  He has been a frequent contributor to 9-1-1 Magazine.



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