Having been away from New York City for nearly six weeks before I returned, I can't say exactly when the City's train systems — MTA, Amtrak, and LIRR — began their new disturbing announcement campaign exhorting all passengers to keep their eyes open and report suspicious behavior immediately to police. But I heard the announcement over and over again, on every subway I rode and while I waited at Penn Station for an Amtrak train to Boston. It was more than the old "unattended bags" line, and it was more than even a "look out for unattended bags." It sounded like, "watch everyone around you and report them to the police." It gave me a very East German Stasi-esque feeling, and of course, got me thinking about what a New Yorker would actually bother to report as suspicious behavior.
Living in NYC you see a lot of weird things, things that if you just happened to be visiting NYC you might even find "suspicious" but which are just part of living in a big, messy, diverse, crazy city. Would the woman talking to herself walking in circles count? What about people walking between subway cars, speaking a foreign language? Or someone wandering slowly, eyeing each store in Penn Station? That was me of course, not because I was casing the place but because I was trying to kill time and find a sandwich. Is asking the general population of New York City to spy and snoop on each other a good preventative measure, a la The Wisdom of Crowds, or is it an opportunity for mistrust and misunderstanding, like Annie Jacobsen's Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles in June?