Saturday, September 22, 2007

The United Nations: NYPD's Burdern

New York, New York: It has been widely publicized in the press this week that the request made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lay a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center was denied by the New York Police Department. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelley did in fact deny this absurd request citing valid security concerns. President Ahmadinejad’s presence in NYC alone will complicate the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly where high level delegations from virtually all 192 member nations will be in attendance. The Iranian President, a highly controversial figure will be speaking at the United Nation General Assembly and has also accepted an invitation to participate in a forum at Columbia University. His movements are expected to attract an increased number of protesters of every ilk and the tension his presence will cause has NYPD officials alarmed. Having him visit Ground Zero would have been a logistical nightmare as well as an insult.

No one in City government or the NYPD is publicly opposed to the Iranian President addressing the UN or, for that matter, speaking at Columbia University. We are a nation of free speech where as Iran is not.
The Iranian President may enjoy engaging in a Q&A session with the students as planned. The NYPD complications arise due to the burdens placed on the them both in terms of manpower and logistics to say nothing of the costs to the Department already suffering budget problems.

But, it is always the same old story. The NYPD is always at the forefront, in the line of fire and expected to police in circumstances and scenarios unique to the dynamics of New York City itself. The United Nations is just another burden, albeit, a very large and costly one. Despite the participation of other federal and state law enforcement agencies including the Secret Service, FBI and State Department security, NYPD will have a classified number of uniformed and plain clothes officers (estimated over 1100) detailed for this weeks activities. Inside sources have reported that it costs the NYPD $600,00 each time George W. Bush has had an overnight stay in the Big Apple. One can only imagine the whopping costs of General Assembly week.

The grand, noble vision of 1945 to replace the League of Nations was the genesis of the United Nations. With only 50 countries signing the original Charter, today 192 independent states are represented. New York City is the home for this international organization and as such plays host to all its members contingents on a permanent basis. Each member nation has a mission, consulate, embassy or some combination housed in New York City. Each of these facilities is staffed by a small diplomatic contingent up to a huge diplomatic, intelligence, security and support staff and their families in many cases. Each of a member nations facilities in the United States is considered under international law to be the “sovereign” territory of that nation. Any New Yorker knows the prevalence of the “diplomatic” license plate which appears to exempt the owner and / or operator of such a tagged vehicle as virtually immune from NYC traffic and parking laws.

Over the years their have been several high profile cases where a staff member attached to a nations UN contingent was involved in a crime. Some of these crimes were mundane while others included assault, rape and murder. In virtually each case the alleged perpetrator was granted diplomatic immunity and quickly flown out of JFK to their homeland usually evading prosecution. In other circumstances, members of a consulate or embassy would not even answer questions regarding a crime although when to have done so would have been in their best interest. Only in NYC can a simple fender bender rapidly escalate into an ‘international incident”.

This arrangement has placed an unusually heavy burden on the City of New York and the New York Police Department (NYPD) in particular. The estimates of the costs to NYC and the NYPD for playing host to the UN have ranged from the hundreds of millions to over a billion dollars annually.

The United States already subsidizes the UN by contributing approximately 22% of its total operating budget of $4.19 billion (in 2005) in the form of “membership dues”. The US is the single highest contributor with the majority of members contributing membership dues less than one percent of the total operating budget. Even prior to the enhanced security measures prompted by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the costs to the NYPD for UN and UN related activities and facilities security was staggering. The federal government contributes what amounts to pennies for these expenses. No matter the event or circumstance, the burden has always and will always fall on the shoulders of the NYPD. And this is in addition to their mandated mission of regular policing duties in a city of 10 million. The combination of NYC residents, visitors, travelers and those who work there, on any given business day, approximately one twelfth of the entire population of the United states is in NYC limits.

The sobering fact each NYC cop, firefighter, EMS and resident, for that matter, lives with daily is that we are all in the center of the bull’s eye. We are the target of choice for terrorists of every stripe. Since the department of Homeland Security in thier infinite wisdom has allocated DHS funds using the same criteria in which states receive federal highway funds, perhpas it’s about time to move the United Nations and all their consulates, embassys, missions and perks to Crawford, Texas or Cheyenne, Wyoming. Maybe Boise, Idaho where Larry Craig might enjoy the international flavor such a move would bring.

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