After the mass shootings, New York is investigating weapons detectors in the subway

NEW YORK (AP) – After a mass shooting on a New York subway train, the mayor expressed the idea of ​​high-tech: deploy scanners that can spot someone with a gun in the transit system before they can take advantage. it is.

The technology to quickly scan large numbers of people for weapons exists and is now being used to screen people in places such as sports stadiums and theme parks.

But security experts say installing such a system in an extensive, porous city subway system in such a way as to change the situation would be difficult, if not impossible.

The problem will not necessarily be in technology, but in reality that scanners must be accompanied by human operators to confront people who illegally carry firearms.

“From logistics it would be a nightmare. You have to tie up a lot of officers to do that, ”said James Dooley, a retired New York City Police Department captain who served in the department’s transit department. “We have hundreds of stations, and the fact is that putting someone at every entrance to every station is impossible out of logistics.”

Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, acknowledged the problems, but said the system should still be tried in some places as a deterrent.

“We want to be able to just show up at the station somewhere so people don’t know she’s there,” the Democrat said. “It’s like what we do when we do car checkpoints.”

The drive to improve subway safety regained relevance in April after an armed man introduced smoke bombs and sprayed subway compartments with shots, injuring 10 people.

Then, on May 22, another gunman killed a passenger in an accidental attack, authorities said.

The day after the assassination, Adams again expressed interest in gun screening technology. And soon the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uwalde, Texas, intensified the debate over how to combat gun use.

In the New York subway, the viewing will not resemble airport checkpoints, an impractical solution for a system with 472 stations, all with multiple entrances. Instead, Adams referred to technology that uses sensors to detect metal, but can also determine the shape of an object, such as a pistol, while people are constantly passing by.

Boston-based Evolv uses technology at facilities, including professional sports stadiums in Atlanta and Nashville, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and, in a recent trial, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, but not on public transportation. . systems.

According to the company, the screens can scan 3,600 people per hour. They can also produce false results from items like Chromebooks.

In an email, Dana Luff, Evolv’s director of marketing, said the false positives were “an order of magnitude lower” than traditional metal detectors, but acknowledged that transportation systems would create unique problems.

“Any technology is just one part of a solution that involves security professionals, the operating environment and the protocols they follow,” Looff said.

Similar test devices, made by British defense technology company QinetiQ, were part of a pilot program in the Los Angeles public transport system in 2018 and are currently being used when the threat level is raised, said Los Angeles metro spokesman Dave Sauter. Cars from afar project scanning waves on passers-by.

Identifying a person with a weapon is only half the battle.

“It’s also a workforce,” said Donel Harvin, a senior fellow at Rand Corp. and a former head of security for the Washington, D.C., government.

Adams did not publicly discuss how much the machines and their operation could cost New York, but Harvin acknowledged that the price could be high.

“If you have a determined striker, you won’t just have a guard; you have to have a cop, ”Harvin said. “It’s hard. You can harden each station, but who wants to pay $ 10 for travel? Because the price will be transferred to the racer.

However, because you can’t put cops in every car and at every station, Harvin said, “you have to invest in some technology”.

“It’s very difficult, but people need to get together and talk about it, because what’s being done now isn’t cutting back.”

Violent attacks in the New York subway remain relatively rare compared to crime on the ground. And the city as a whole is one of the safest major cities in the country.

But the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on people’s sense of security, as did a number of high-profile crimes, including the deadly push of a woman in front of a train by a man who later pleaded too mentally ill to stand trial. In response, the MTA said it was checking safety barriers at some stations.

The number of crimes in the transit system reported by New York City police this year was on a par with the years before the pandemic, but public opinion has emerged that there is a new underworld underground.

The capital’s transport administration has managed to add another 1,000 police officers to the system, but its chairman, Jano Liber, was candid last week when asked about the current climate.

“This week is a terrible week,” he said, referring to the May 22 shooting. “I can’t tell any New York subway passenger this week, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ because what happened is a terrible nightmare.”

Any workable security update should probably include a set of measures, experts say.

Dooley suggested a limited proliferation of officers using hand-held metal detectors at off-road stations, but acknowledged that it would cover only a fraction of the vast territory of the system and could lead to complaints about civil liberties, including the possibility of racial profiling.

Police officers are already conducting random checks of bags at some subway entrances, but these checks are so rare that most people travel unattended for years.

Dorothy Moses Schultz, retired police captain on the MetroNorth MTA rail system and Honored Professor of the College of Criminal Justice John Jay, suggested that more subway police and a strong commitment to fighting the homeless could help “send a message that we’re trying to make which would bring people back ”.

“When more people feel the system is working, they will come back, and when more people come back, it makes the system safer,” she said.

Last week, Liber said the agency was open to new approaches.

“We are serious about studying each of these technologies,” he said. “I think we will achieve that, but it’s a matter of time and technology development.”

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