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Tightening Subway Security in New York, Boston

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Tightening Subway Security in New York, Boston


Tightening Subway Security in New York, Boston

Tightening Subway Security in New York, Boston

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Two police heads from East Coast cities discuss the difficulty in securing open subway systems. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and deputy chief of police for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, John Martino, talk about how the cities are beefing up security on the transportation systems.


Security experts will tell you that no public transportation system can ever be completely safe, but in the US this past week, city officials felt they needed to respond to the London bombings. We thought we'd make two quick calls to East Coast cities to see what they're doing and how they asked transit passengers to help. In New York, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says, for starters this week, his department doubled the number of police who ride the subways.

Commissioner RAYMOND KELLY (New York Police): Right now, we have police officers on every one of our subway trains during rush hour. We've increased the number of plains-clothes officers as well on the system. We have a pretty robust intelligence organization here, and they're doing the things that you would expect intelligence organizations to do. There's only so much that a municipality can do.

STAMBERG: Last Thursday, that was the day of the bombings in London, your police force reportedly recorded something like 28 calls from riders about suspicious packages. What were they reporting?

Commissioner KELLY: Well, we do get calls for packages every day. I think the number of calls have tripled since last Thursday. But they report that they see a package that's unattended. If the responding units think there is something untoward, then our bomb squad will respond.

STAMBERG: You know, there are some urban transit systems that give lists of what a suspicious person might look like, and on the list is something like people who appear lost, or people who seem to be perspiring. I mean, how can you narrow it and frame it that way?

Commissioner KELLY: Some of the things you mentioned--yeah, they're on certain lists. We don't put out lists like that. What we say to people is look at your world through the prism of 9/11. It's difficult, though, to say with great specificity what to look for.

STAMBERG: New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Some details on what other city transit systems do look for. In Dallas, online and in pamphlets, posters, the transit system's list of potentially suspicious behavior includes: people who pace or seem jumpy. San Francisco's BART says: Look out for people who take pictures of things that are of no interest to the general public. A recurrent theme is sweat. Boston says: Watch out for people who are perspiring too much. John Martino, deputy police chief of Boston's MBTA, lists other details they tell riders to look for.

Deputy Police Chief JOHN MARTINO (Boston, MBTA): Somebody that was riding a train and took a backpack off and tried to put it under their seat and get up or something like that. Somebody that was in an area that's closed to the general public. You know, they walk down by the end of a platform and continue past the sign where it says `employees only.' Anything like that.

STAMBERG: The Web also says watch out for people wearing excessively baggy clothing. What does that mean?

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: If somebody were to get on one of our vehicles right now wearing an overcoat, that would be cause for someone to be concerned. This is not overcoat weather. It's in the mid-80s. The only reason somebody might have for wearing a coat like that would be to conceal something under it.

STAMBERG: I understand that in Boston some passengers have reported odd behavior on the part of transit workers. They just happened not to be in their uniforms at the time.

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: There will be occasions when a transit worker's not wearing the vests that identify them and somebody calls in because they're concerned. And we just get out there, verify that they're our crews and then have them put the vests on.

STAMBERG: Do they perspire? Do they act peculiar in any way?

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: They should know better than to act peculiar, but I suppose everybody perspires at times.

STAMBERG: But you see what I'm getting at, don't you?

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: Nervous perspiration is generally--you can tell when looking at somebody whether it's nervous perspiration or the result of temperature or physical activity. Because it's not just the perspiration, it's the way they behave, their body language, their eye movement. There's a lot more to it.

STAMBERG: Is there any question where the thing that somebody spots ends up maybe being border-line racist or even downright racist?

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: There are occasions when people will call in information that could be based on a personal bias. Again, we can't evaluate the information until we arrive on scene, and at that time, we evaluate our response based on what we are confronted with. If there is some question, the officer may begin a conversation with the person that was the subject of the call and will quickly evaluate whether or not there is any cause for concern or further investigation.

STAMBERG: But no matter how good your planning is and how vigilant your passengers are, could all of that really stop a very well-planned terrorist attack?

Dep. Police Chief MARTINO: Transit systems are the most open publicly accessible systems there are in the world. No, without being at a level where we had police officers at every entrance and in every train. Could we stop it? No. But, hopefully, we can deter it. Or if it is in place, or if we realize something is being put in place, stop it before serious harm is done.

STAMBERG: John Martino is deputy chief of police for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston.

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