Prepared for the New York City Police Department Crime Prevention Section
The difficulty with fining passengers for bringing a prohibited item to an airport screening checkpoint is that the punishment usually doesn’t fit the crime. While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is proud of its record of having confiscated and otherwise kept out of commercial airliner cabins dangerous objects numbering in the millions (according to the agency), for the most part, the objects generally do not meet even the most expansive definition of a dangerous weapon. Any object capable of causing death or serious bodily injury — with the exception of pocket knives with blades less than 2.5 inches — is what is defined in federal criminal procedure law as a dangerous weapon in a federal facility. (Title 18 USC Section 930)
The information coming out of the 9/11 hearings — about the failures of our intelligence community to provide national leaders and the public with information sufficient to warn the nation — is disheartening. In order to prepare for the foreseeable risks of terrorism, as with crime in all of its forms, you must know your enemies, understand their intent, and evaluate the security in place to protect against the threats presented against you. We have learned that we as a nation did not really know our enemies, but rather knew of them. We had information about tactics that might be employed by them, but we didn’t acknowledge the need to prepare for such tactics; and we knew that our security, particularly aviation security, was in place, but we did not ensure that it was prepared for the challenges that were to be faced.
The duty to provide reasonable security against foreseeable crime risks has held my attention since the landmark case involving singer Connie Francis, who was assaulted by an unknown assailant in her motel room after a performance on Long Island. While innkeepers have had a duty to provide security for their guests as long ago as the Middle Ages, the notion of holding the innkeeper responsible in damages for an assault on a guest by an unknown attacker because of the alleged negligence of the lodging’s owner was a new concept in the 1970’s. It has since has given rise to a very active premises liability practice for lawyers on both sides of the issue.
In America’s major cities, public school buildings are regularly protected by detachments of school “police.” In New York City, the school security personnel are in fact employed and trained by the New York City Police Department’s School Safety Division under the command of an Assistant Chief Inspector. In Brooklyn, the District Attorney has set aside scarce resources to establish the School Advocacy Bureau, which is dedicated to dealing with the issue of school crime, and finding ways to work with the New York City Department of Education to combat school violence.
America is breathing a sigh of relief after coming through the July 4th weekend without the predicted terrorist calamity. Not all of us celebrated our nation’s birthday in peace, however — around the globe, our troops continue to risk their lives in various venues in an unconventional war against terrorism, and here at home, ordinary citizens were murdered by yet another Arab terrorist, this time in the Los Angeles Airport.