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Machete Allegedly Found in NYC
Friday, July 22, 2005



NEW YORK — Alarmed by a new round of mass transit attacks in London (search), police in New York began random searches of bags and packages brought into the city's vast subway system.

The inspections started on a small scale Thursday in Manhattan (search) and were expanded during Friday morning's rush hour — a development welcomed by some commuters.

"I'm not against it," Ian Compton, 35, a computer consultant, said at Grand Central Terminal (search) in Midtown Manhattan. "I think any measures for safety that aren't terribly intrusive are worth doing."

Officers, some with bomb-sniffing dogs, were stopping people carrying bags as they entered subways, commuter trains, buses and ferries at various points in the city, police said. Anyone who refuses a search will be turned away, and those caught carrying drugs or other contraband could be arrested.

One man was arrested during Thursday evening rush hour at the Brentwood Long Island Rail Road station after police became suspicious, stopped his van and allegedly found a machete and other weapons. Gilbert Hernandez, 34, had been convicted of possessing a pipe bomb in 1996, police said.

Friday morning, an officer was seen outside a subway stop at Penn Station with a sign saying, "NYPD, Backpacks and other containers subject to inspection."

Police officials said they had considered taking the measures to thwart bombings for the past three years. Two terrorist attacks on transit targets in London forced their hand, said Paul Browne, the police department's chief spokesman.

Browne called it "the first time this regimen has been used in (New York's) transit system."

On Thursday, a cluster of officers was seen stopping five men over a 15-minute period as they entered the subway in Union Square at evening rush hour. In each instance, the officers peered briefly into their bags, then waved them through.

"If it serves a purpose, I'm OK with it," said one of the men, James Washington, 45, about being stopped.

Officials declined to specify where and how frequently the checks would occur or how long they would last. The NYPD already had doubled the number of officers who patrol the subway after the initial attack in London on July 7, at a cost of $2 million a week in overtime.

That explosion killed 52 people and four suicide bombers. On Thursday, four small explosions struck the London Underground and a bus in a far less bloody attack. The only reported injury was an asthma attack.

"We just live in a world where, sadly, these kinds of security measures are necessary," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "Are they intrusive? Yes, a little bit. But we are trying to find that right balance."

The New York Civil Liberties Union warned that the new measures violate basic rights and could invite racial or religious profiling.

"The plan is not workable and will not make New Yorkers more secure but will inconvenience them as police go about finding a needle in a haystack," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said.

New York's subways carry about 4.5 million passengers on the average weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The system, the largest in the country, has more than 468 stations, most of which have multiple entrances, and during rush hours the flood of humanity in and out of key stations can be overwhelming.

William K. Williams, a 56-year-old Manhattan resident who rides the train every day, said the searches would frustrate New Yorkers.

"Sometimes you need to get to an appointment, you're running late and a cop stops you to delay you even further? That's going to create a mess," said Williams, who was carrying a briefcase outside the Brooklyn Bridge station of the subway.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said passengers selected for searches will be approached by officers, who will ask them what they're carrying and request that they open their bags. Those who decline "can't enter the system," he said.
 
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