By: Shmuel Jacobs  | 

The Logic Behind Checking ID’s


The broken logic employed in some recent Commentator pieces leaves readers like myself wondering whether this deficiency is in a lack of honesty or in faulty reasoning. This knowledge lurked in my mind when I read an article entitled YU Security: Lights Are On, But Nobody’s Home, by Moshe Blockman. In his article, Blockman complains about YU security’s tendency toward laxity in checking IDs. While I acknowledge that the piece makes for great reading and sounds sincere, I’m not entirely confident that I can identify the logic employed anywhere. At first, the argument sounds like it’s concerned with convenience. Says Blockman, “My irritation doesn’t stem from security checking IDs; rather it is the lack of consistency that I find annoying. Because of the sporadic nature of the checks, 99% of the time I simply have no reason to carry an ID on me.”

The article continues by explaining that students aren’t accustomed to showing ID’s, and are therefore bad at doing so. Our author suggests that his inconvenience upon failing to produce his ID and entering the building anyway after months of traveling the campus without ID outweighs the inconvenience of stopping and producing ID six times a day every single day. Be that as it may, if we voted, I’m confident that we’d find that random checks once a semester are perceived as more convenient than constant checks. Of course, the article is also full of references to safety, which leads to the implicit argument that we must be safer when security demands that we present ID’s. Here’s the logic:

  1. The benefit of security is in its ability to prevent terrorist attacks.
  2. Security is capable of preventing such attacks.
  3. Attacks would hypothetically occur behind checkpoints rather than in the crowded and extremely accessible streets.
  4. Terrorists would be incapable of producing ID’s, despite the fact that programs like idNYC and state walking IDs guarantee official identification to almost everyone in America..

Although I disagree with some other minor facts throughout the article, like the idea that other universities are more vigilant (I personally know of a number of universities that seem less strict than YU when it comes to security), I take issue primarily with the implication that we have created an effective method of preventing terrorist attacks as a result of increased checking of ID’s.

First, it’s not like we encounter threats of terror on a daily basis. Judging by the security emails students get periodically, the biggest threat we currently face is from young men and women on dark street corners trying to forcibly rid us of our cell phones. I think consideration of how security has actually made us safer this year actually centers on a factor irrelevant to terrorists. Rather, it is in that these strangers who threaten us on neighboring streets are afraid to pursue us into our campus. Perhaps this is due to our security vehicles or perhaps it is due to the frequent NYPD presence. In fact, I agree with Moshe Blockman about the NYPD: I feel generally intimidated when I see New York City Police Officers, and I’m happy every time I see one of campus.

Even the violent pranks that do occur only happen late at night, and rarely. Muggers don’t follow students into the dorms, and fights that do break out generally don’t extend into our campus. Any physical force that does occur between people with legitimate cause to be here is minimized by the security presence. All of the threats I address fall under guards’ mandate to prevent violence, regardless of the offenders’ enrollment statuses. Further, security guards everywhere need to be aware of the threat posed by spontaneous - and sometimes insane- strangers who wander around aggravated or lost and harass bystanders. I haven’t heard any reports of that type from my y-studs, and a conversation with one YU guard made it seem that strangers rarely wander belligerently. If such a practice does becomes more common, vigilant ID checking will make far more sense to me. Regardless, security is far more important in its ability to prevent normal street violence, which officers do ward off and discourage.

I felt concerned for my safety last week when I walked through a group of students leaving George Washington High School, just one block outside of our campus. The students began hitting each other with a cane, and I considered that if one hit me, I would be unable to retaliate or evade all of them. I never considered the possibility that vigilant ID checking would protect me--after all, bad guys are also entitled to travel on Amsterdam Avenue. All I considered was that they wouldn’t follow me into a YU building, because the guard would detect something different about this group of high schoolers, regardless of ID checks.

The same theory of security is behind the policy relating to people who have cause to be here but no valid YU ID to back up that cause. They often are allowed in with a good story and any official photo ID. That makes sense when we consider that YU is very open to the community around it, many people have good reason to be in the Batei Midrash, and security has some credibility about its experience and ‘feel for’ deciding who can be let in. Consider the same policy with its terrorist threat implications. The policy for visitors is that they must show some form of photo identification, apparently because it’s important to know that they do have legal names and did once present proof of address to someone. I know that faulting this system for being imperfect isn’t fair criticism, but what is a check supposed to achieve? In fact, Oregon and Virginia Tech, the campus mass shootings committed during my memory, were committed by attackers who had valid ID’s.

Now that I’ve presented my impressions of security and of incomplete reporting by sincere people whose writing I genuinely enjoy, I must offer my own form of back-pedaling. I don’t demand that security cease its checks. In my mind, the inconvenience is small. Further, I believe that some increase in safety does exist and the potential damage avoided is tremendous. Of course YU is within its own reasonable rights when it demands ID from those entering school buildings. Of course some terrorists are deterred and thwarted by good campus security, including by ID checks. Of course I’m thankful to our security guards and glad to see them around. But I fear that the new procedures followed on our campus, as advocated by Moshe Blockman, will make little difference in changing the probability that those who choose to target us (G-d forbid) will succeed. We must have faith in the capable leaders responsible for our safety and wellbeing, and in the longstanding mechanisms employed by our security team that have protected us without fail up until this point.