After mass shooting, NYC explores gun detectors in the subway

NEW YORK (AP) — After a mass shooting On a New York City subway train, the mayor floated a high-tech idea: implement scanners that can detect someone carrying a gun in the transit system before they have a chance to use it.

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

But security experts say installing such a system on the city’s sprawling and porous subway system in a way that would make a difference would be difficult, if not impossible.

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

“Logistically, it would be a nightmare. You’re going to have to strap down a lot of officers to do this,” said James Dooley, a retired New York Police Department captain who served in the department’s traffic division. “We have hundreds of stations, and the fact is that putting someone at every entrance to every station is logistically impossible.”

Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, acknowledged the challenges but said it might still be worth testing the system in select locations as a deterrent.

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

The push to improve subway security became urgent in April after a gunman detonated smoke bombs and sprayed a subway compartment with gunfire, injuring 10 people.

Then on May 22, another gunman killed a passenger in what authorities said appeared to be a random attack.

A day after that murder, Adams again expressed an interest in weapons detection technology. And soon, the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, intensified the debate about how to address gun violence.

On the New York City subway, the projection would not resemble airport checkpoints, an untenable solution for a system with 472 stations, all with multiple entrances. Instead, Adams referenced a technology that uses sensors to detect metal but can also determine the shape of an object, such as a weapon, as people pass by without interruption.

Evolv, a Boston-area company, uses the technology in facilities that include professional sports arenas in Atlanta and Nashville, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and, in a recent trial, at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, though not on any public transport. systems

The detectors can scan 3,600 people per hour, according to the company. However, they can also produce false positives for things like Chromebooks.

In an email, Dana Loof, director of marketing for Evolv, said false positives “are an order of magnitude lower” than traditional metal detectors, but acknowledged transit systems would pose unique challenges.

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

Similar detection devices made by QinetiQ, a defense technology company based in England, were part of a pilot program on the Los Angeles public transportation system in 2018 and are currently being used when threat levels are high, Dave said. Sotero, spokesman for Los Angeles Metro. The machines project scanning waves at passersby from a distance.

Identifying someone with a gun is only half the challenge.

“It’s also labor,” said Donell Harvin, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp. and a former Washington, DC, government security chief.

Adams has not publicly discussed how much the machines might cost to operate in New York City, but Harvin acknowledged the price could be steep.

“If you have a determined assailant, you’re not going to just have a security guard there; you’ll have to have a police officer,” Harvin said. “It’s tough. It can get tough every season, but who’s going to want to pay a $10 fee? Because the cost will be passed on to the rider.”

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

“It is very complex, but people have to come together and talk about this, because what is being done now is not enough.”

Violent attacks on the New York City subway system remain relatively rare compared to crimes on the surface. And the city in general is one of the safest big cities in the country.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s sense of safety, as has a series of high-profile crimes, including the fatal shoving of a woman. in front of a train by a man who was later declared too mentally ill to stand trial. In response, the MTA said it would test security barriers at some stations.

The number of crimes in the transit system reported by the NYPD so far this year has been on par with years before the pandemic, but the public perception has been that there are new underground riots.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has managed to get 1,000 more police assigned to the system, but its president, Janno Lieber, was candid last week when asked about the current climate.

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

Any viable security update would likely have to encompass a mix of measures, experts said.

Dooley envisioned a limited deployment of officers using hand-held metal detectors at high-traffic stations, but acknowledged that would cover only a fraction of the system’s vast territory and could lead to civil liberties complaints, including the possibility of racial profiling.

Police officers already carry out spot checks on people’s bags at some subway entrances, but those checks are so infrequent that most people travel for years without being searched.

Dorothy Moses Schulz, retired police captain of the MTA’s MetroNorth rail system and professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, suggested that more police on the subways and a sustained commitment to addressing homelessness could help “send the message that we’re trying to make this an orderly system, that would bring people back.”

“If more people feel like the system is working, they will come back, and when more people come back, that will make the system more secure,” he said.

Lieber said last week that the agency is open to new approaches.

“We are serious about exploring each of these technologies,” he said. “I think we will achieve it, but it is a matter of time and technological development.”

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