Security Heightened On U.S. Public Transportation Systems
Mario Tama  /  Getty Images
NYPD Sgt. William Buckley checks a car in the Times Square subway station during the morning rush hour July 8, 2005 in New York City. Security on subway trains and buses was increased in the wake of explosions that killed at least 50 people and injured many others on London's mass transit system July 7, 2005.
By Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 7/8/2005 8:12:29 PM ET 2005-07-09T00:12:29

While the threat level for the nation’s transit system was raised to orange because of the London bombings, it’s orange every day in New York City.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has his own intelligence officer stationed in London, got a call minutes after the bombs went off. His response was to strengthen what’s already in place.

Within hours of the London attacks, the NYPD put at least one cop on virtually every subway train in the city during rush hour. And when trains pulled into the station, each car was actually inspected. 

This, according to Kelly, is unprecedented. “It takes a lot of resources,” he says. “And of course it costs a lot of money.”

Could it happen in New York?
New York City has almost 500 subway stations and hundreds of miles of tracks. About 7 million people use the transit system every day. And unlike airports, virtually anyone in the subway can come and go at will — entering with only a swipe of a Metrocard and lugging whatever they can carry. Investigators now believe the bombs in London were small enough to fit in a backpack. 

Intelligence sources have indicated there is more threat reporting on New York mass transit than virtually anywhere in the world. Is it inevitable that terrorists will at some point at least try to strike the subways or trains of New York City?

"I never used the word ‘inevitable’ because I think we’re doing an awful lot here," says Kelly. "Our focus is on prevention."

Key elements in the commissioner’s strategy include:

  • Uniformed presence. “There’s a developing body of evidence that shows that uniformed presence deployed intelligently is a deterrent,” says Kelly.
    Inspector Vincent Dimarino, who coordinates the counter-terrorism effort in the New York City transit system, knows that every morning he reports to work, he could face the kind of attack seen in London Thursday. But he says he’s confident in the eyes and ears of his patrol cops looking for suspicious people and packages. “If anyone’s doing any reconnaissance — and I’m not saying that they are — we want people to go back and say, ‘You know what? Wherever I went in New York, there was a cop. Whenever I went into the subway, everywhere I went, there was a cop. And the cops were engaging people and interacting with people,’” says Inspector Vincent Dimarino.
  • A “surge.” A counter-terrorism measure called surge takes place every day in New York City. Hundreds of police officers and cars are deployed to target areas. The areas are chosen by intelligence detectives working in the city and overseas in places like London.
  • Surprise. “One of the things that we do is we never try to show the same game face twice,” says Kelly. “We don’t want anybody who’s doing reconnaissance to get a beat on us and to be able to predict what we’re going to do.”

No guarantees
“Nobody has all the answers I think we’re doing everything that we reasonably can do to protect the city, protect the transit system, and protect people on the street,” says Kelly. “But there are limits for that. And I think the public understands. We’re doing what we can do — no guarantees.”

Dimarino says every day is important. “Every day that I wake up, I say, ‘This could be a day that something happens.’ The best terrorist incident is the one that doesn’t happen.”

He adds that he has faith in New York City police officers. “I think we have some of the best cops in the world. And public service, as corny as it sounds, is something in our cops’ hearts that really makes them committed to protecting this city. Many of us went to 60, 70, 100 funerals after 9/11. We don’t want to do that again.”

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