When Everything Is Suspicious, Nothing Is


In his new book, Against Security, NYU sociologist Harvey Molotch argues that New York's terrorism hotline actually compromises subway safety. Dwyer Gunn recounts one of the reasons why – too much weird stuff happens in the city:

"We have everything," says ­Molotch. "People lugging their art project around with wires sticking out, people who indeed look Islamic operating counting machines to count their prayers in Islam as they go." Reports of such harmless goings-on can clog the law-enforcement system and keep officials from investigating serious threats. Molotch interviewed 80 subway workers for his book and concluded that "See Something" would be an even bigger nuisance if MTA staffers didn’t often opt to check out suspicious packages themselves rather than call in investigators. "If they really acted on each of these things, the subway system would come to a halt."

But there's a bright side:

Molotch does acknowledge one unintended benefit of the program: New Yorkers now have a better chance of getting back a gym bag or package accidentally left behind when getting off at their stop. "It seems to be," he says, "that there is actual retrieval of lost goods."

(Photo by Flickr user Istolethetv)