Cops with Machine Guns Patrol New York Subways
Fortified with MP5 machine guns (and $30 million from the Department of Homeland Security), New York City’s finest are now patrolling the Big Apple’s subways in a counterterrorism initiative dubbed “Operation Torch.” The police are also armed with M4 carbine rifles and body armor and are accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs. With five million riders a day, the city’s subway system has been considered a primo terror target since 9/11.
Five or six teams per day will patrol major transit hubs such as Columbus Circle, Grand Central Station, Herald Square, Penn Station, the Rockefeller Center and Times Square in Manhattan, as well as Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Ray Kelly said other locations will also be guarded. “The assignments will vary and will be following no discernible pattern,” he said. Similar NYPD “Hercules” police officers have patrolled the Empire State Building, Wall St. and other city landmarks since September 11, 2001. During previous periods of heightened security, Hercules officers have patrolled the subways. The NYPD’s transit division has conducted 48,000 random baggage checks since 2005 and inspects tunnels and ventilation systems for explosives. Surveillance cameras are also in place.
Police Commissioner Kelly, noting an attempted August 2004 bomb plot at Herald Square, commented: “Our transit system has been targeted unsuccessfully…And, of course, we know of successful attacks throughout the world in subways. We’ve done more than any other transit system in the world, by far, to prevent another attack…Our transit system is as safe as it’s ever been and I can assure you that it’s our intention to keep it that way.”
The NYPD received the $30 million Transit Operational Response With Canine and Heavy Weapons (TORCH) funds as part of a $151 million grant made by the Department of Homeland Security to Connecticut, New Jersey and New York; the funds are projected to last for two years and will beef up operations of the approximately 2,600 police officers who work the NYPD’s transit bureau. Kelly said: “We think this is a reasonable expenditure of funds. We’re doing everything that we think is appropriate to prevent another attack.” Kelly indicated that if the program is successful, New York City will seek additional funding to continue it. But how does one tell if such a program is successful? This is the first time in U.S. history that counterterrorism units have been assigned to a mass transit system.
Each six-member Torch unit, working 12-hours shifts, will have four officers from the police department’s emergency service unit, a sergeant, a dog handler and a bomb-sniffing dog. While some passengers welcomed the increased police presence, others complained that the Torch units were too “in your face.” Subway passenger Carol Ann Daniel of Brooklyn told a New York radio station: “I find it kind of scary…The idea of people with guns all around doesn’t actually make me feel safer for some reason…It kind of feels like you’re in a war zone.”
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Photo credits: Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
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