October 1, 2010

Mayor: Cameras, Not Cops, Counterterrorism’s Future

Cites Labor, Pension Costs


Closed-circuit cameras, not warm bodies belonging to well-trained cops, are the future of the city’s antiterrorism program, Mayor Bloomberg says.

In announcing Sept. 20 that 500 security cameras in three large Midtown subway stations providing video feeds around the clock have been connected to the NYPD’s Lower Manhattan Security Coordination Center, Mr. Bloomberg said, “Technology is the only way we can increase security.”

‘Can’t Afford Labor Costs’

“We cannot afford the labor costs and we will have to downsize the workforce to pay their pensions,” he said. “. . . Technology will replace some of the workforce.”

Mr. Bloomberg said it would cost $200 million to provide a total of 10,000 cameras in the Midtown and Lower Manhattan security initiatives. Much of that will be funded by the Federal Government, he said, but he emphasized that the city would come up with as much money as necessary to complete the job.

Mayoral spokesman Jason Post pointed out that the need to decrease the number of city employees is something the Mayor “has said again and again.” He did not elaborate on Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks.

The “Mayorstat” section of Mr. Bloomberg’s website boasts that he has reduced active headcount of city employees—not counting those in uniform or those funded by Federal or state grants—by 25 percent from December 2001 to July 2010. That means the number of city workers has dropped from 586,000 to 453,000.

The number of NYPD members with the rank of Police Officer peaked in December 1997 at 26,689, according to Police Department statistics. On April 27, 2010, given the fiscal crisis and declining Federal aid for law enforcement, the department had 22,148 Police Officers, a decline of 17 percent. The number of Detectives has dropped from 7,000 to 5,500, a drop of 21 percent, Detectives Endowment Association President Michael J. Palladino said recently. Various news reports have placed the number of sworn officers assigned to anti-terror work at about 1,000.

“Cameras are useful in helping to solve a crime or in investigating a terrorist attack that has already occurred, but they don’t help prevent it,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “A camera has never arrested an armed robber or thwarted a terrorist threat. You need police boots on the ground to make that happen, and with 6,000 fewer police officers on our streets than in 2001, the NYPD is already stretched too thin. The technology is useless without adequate numbers of police officers to respond to what the camera sees.”

Video Feeds on Projection Wall

The press conference took place inside the security coordination center in a modern office building just south of Wall St. The large room contains 24 computer workstations, with two monitors each, divided among three tiered rows. The workstations in the first two rows were labeled with the names of financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, the Federal Reserve and the New York Stock Exchange. Those in the second row carried the names of other financial institutions, the Port Authority, the MTA Police and NYPD Intelligence. In the third row, every computer was labeled NYPD. Most of the chairs were filled Sept. 20 by people in civilian clothes.

The workstations faced a projection wall divided into four vertical sections that respectively displayed a map of Lower Manhattan, 16 live video feeds from cameras in Midtown subway stations and streets, the NYPD logo and four video feeds from the Wall Street area.

The subway cameras cover Penn Station, Grand Central Station and Times Square. Before they were added, the security coordination center monitored 700 cameras from the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative, which runs river to river from 30th St. to 60th St., and 3,000 publicand private-sector cameras that are part of the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which runs from Canal St. south.

Mr. Bloomberg said that Wall Street was “the best-protected financial district on earth.” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly added that the 1.7 square miles below Canal St. contains “the world’s densest concentration of financial institutions and infrastructure.”

Offers Expansive View

Mr. Kelly said the subway cameras showed turnstiles, platforms, tracks and entrances to the subway tunnels. Staff members in the security coordination center can zoom in on particular images and change camera angles from their desks, he said.

The Police Department is refining video analytics, under which computers will alert staff members to “potentially threatening behavior and objects” such as abandoned luggage, he said. Cameras can be instructed to scan current and past footage for indicators such as a man in a red jacket, he said.

The footage is “stored centrally and available instantaneously,” Mr. Kelly said. The images are disposed of after 30 days because of privacy considerations, he said.

Mr. Bloomberg noted that in addition to indicators of terrorism, the cameras can scan for ordinary street and subway crimes.