2002-06-26 / Editorials


Stay Alert--Stay Alive

Earlier this month two men tried to buy a movie prop ambulance from the owner of Movie Time Cars in Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Movie Time Cars owner Joe Sargo, who supplies vehicles for movies and television shows such as "Law & Order," said he first noticed the pair, whom he described as clean–cut and Middle Eastern, hovering near the lot where his vehicles are parked. They asked him if they could buy an ambulance and when he replied in the negative, aroused his suspicions by offering him cash. Sargo again declined to make the sale and the two men got in a car and drove away—but not before Sargo noted the license number. He called police.

Although late-breaking stories indicate that one of the men trying to buy the ambulance wanted the vehicle in order to store tools in its many compartments, Sargo is not sorry he alerted authorities. Nothing is too trivial to report to police, he maintains. Proving his point is the fact that less than a month before the purchase attempt a Bergen County–based ambulance corps received an anonymous e-mail from Karachi, Pakistan, asking how to buy an ambulance and run a rescue squad. Federal agencies and Pakistani authorities are working to find the source of the online request.

Ambulances aren't the only vehicles that can give cause for concern. Used police cruisers outfitted with lights, sirens and numerous law enforcement paraphernalia are available over the Internet to anyone with a credit card and a mailing address, some for as relatively little as $13,000. The frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on one site advises that purchasing a used 2001 Ford Police Interceptor vehicle is "perfectly OK." Given the fact that many terrorists use so-called Trojan Horse vehicles—official-looking police cars and ambulances loaded with explosives—to carry out their evil work, we wonder if "OK" is the right word.

The Movie Time Cars incident points up some of the holes in the safety net—holes that can be mended only by the vigilance of private citizens such as Joe Sargo. For the most part, albeit with some notable exceptions, we as a society are free to buy and sell just about anything. We would never promulgate the idea that all purchases of all items should be monitored by a "Big Brother" sort of supervisory apparatus. But simple logic and the terrorist attacks of September 11, and those now taking place in other parts of the world, should tell us that sometimes we have to look more closely at what we're selling and who wants to buy. Just about everything can be used for good or evil—before September 11 whoever would have thought that a commercial airliner could be used to take down a building?—and we agree that we can't predict everything. But the Joe Spargos of this world remind us that it is we ourselves who are ultimately responsible for keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Yes, vigilance will result in some false alarms. Those false alarms are still a small price to pay. The lives we save are worth it.

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