Thursday, April 1, 2010

Editorial: Beware of Blind Spots

Most of us have who drive have, on at least one occasion, held our breath behind the wheel-- gasping over a near miss with a car in the next lane. “I didn’t see that car. It was in my blind spot.”

Over the past week, another “blind spot”, one far more dangerous, appeared in the local news when three men were stabbed on a Manhattan train, early on Sunday. Two victims died from their injuries, a third was seriously wounded, their attacker left the scene without a trace-- and the subway station where the crime occurred did not have a security camera.

But these dangerous “blind spots” in crime and terrorism surveillance along the subway system of the largest city in the United States don’t occur just because of the lack of cameras. They exist also because of the 4,313 security cameras that have been installed, almost half just don’t work due to mechanical difficulties. In fact 2,043 of the cameras operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) are presently out of service due to a situation of which Mayor Bloomberg says, "I think it's fair to say the MTA does not have enough money to provide the level of security that people want and that we should have,” and “Someday we're going to get very badly hurt because of it."

Another contributing factor in the subway “blind spot” are the to-the-bone budget cuts--$93 million-- made by the MTA, resulting in unmanned token booths and far fewer officers to patrol our subways. The same cuts have resulted in a shortage of officers responsible for patrolling bridges and tunnels over the weekends.

While pressed about culpability in the matter of securing the city’s subways, the MTA and Lockheed Martin, the company contracted to install cameras and cell phone stations in the subway system, continue to play a dangerous game of finger-pointing. The result of which is a lawsuit filed by both parties. According to Lockheed Martin, their progress has been delayed because the MTA has denied them adequate access, while the MTA contests that Lockheed delivered faulty equipment.

Although crime is down on the city’s subways overall, the fact remains that a system which is responsible for transporting more than five million New Yorkers every day is not secure and remains an ever attractive prospect for criminals and terrorists. The NYPD does not rely on any surveillance devices operated by the MTA. They have officers routinely patrolling the subways and also conduct random searches in stations scattered across the five boroughs.

Clearly a more functional and cooperative effort among all the city agencies who contribute to mass transit security could eliminate more crime and add to safety for crowds of commuters under threat of terrorist activity. A most recent attack by suicide bombers in Moscow both points to the vulnerability of the subway system as a target and emphasizes the critical need for maximum surveillance.

The NYPD continues to install a network of thousands of security cameras throughout the city to be manned by private surveillance companies as part of an intensive security initiative. The onus is now on the MTA to adjust cost cuts and restore or re-acquire whatever funding necessary to initiate and maintain that subway riders in NYC are not faced with deadly blind spots.

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