May 2010

Fatal stabbing shows gaps in NYC subway surveillance

by METRO Staff

Courtesy NY MTA

A fatal stabbing in a New York City subway tunnel in late March again highlighted the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) struggle to deploy video surveillance as a post-9/11 anti-terror initiative.

A suspect who stabbed two men during the early morning hours of March 28 fled via train at the Christopher Street station, according to New York police. The station hadn't been equipped with any of the 4,313 surveillance cameras now installed in city subways.

Without any video footage of the attack, the New York Police Department (NYPD) returned to the lower-tech practice of circulating fliers without a description of the suspect.

A spokesman with the rapid transit agency assured Metro Magazine that the project is still on track, despite the dismissal of the contractor, ongoing legal battle and an array of technical setbacks.

The cameras have become increasingly important as the authority seeks to prevent terrorist attacks as it reduces the number of station agents amid budgetary cutbacks.

The MTA is still planning to activate 2,043 not-yet-operational cameras installed by Lockheed Martin Corp. Of those, 910 will be operational in June, according to Aaron Donovan, deputy press secretary with MTA.

Additionally, the agency has been consulting with the NYPD to help determine where additional cameras should be added.

"In a post-9/11 world we have worked together to harden our infrastructure, secure sensitive areas and prioritize locations for surveillance cameras," Donovan said. "We expect to have additional funding in the upcoming MTA Capital Program to add cameras in priority areas identified in consultation with the NYPD."

Despite the transit agency's efforts, the surveillance project has been, as the New York Times has written, "a patchwork of lifeless cameras, unequipped stations and problem-plagued wiring."

Frustration over delays and spiraling costs came to a head in April 2009, when the MTA fired contractor Lockheed Martin.

The company promptly sued the MTA, which filed its own counter-suit. While Lockheed claims the MTA refused to give them access to critical subway tunnels to install surveillance equipment, the MTA claims Lockheed failed to provide a system that actually worked.

The MTA's lawsuit claims the firm's system failed repeatedly during tests, that Lockheed falsely reported work progress, that an MTA inspector was injured by faulty scaffolding and that Lockheed subcontractors botched installation of aerial wires across a bridge, the New York Post reported.

An audit released earlier this year by New York State Comptroller Thomas Napoli said the project, which began in summer 2005, has so far cost $461 million, which is well above its initial $265 million price tag. The project may be 19 to 50 months behind and will now cost $743 million, the audit found.

MTA and Lockheed both declined to release details about the cameras, intelligent video software or other equipment being used.

"As active litigation, it's our company policy not to make comment on the details," said Joe Wagovich, a Lockheed spokesman. "We're confident as we continue to work through this process that it will become clearly evident that Lockheed Martin worked diligently to keep its contractual commitments."

The most common type of subway camera monitors the turnstile area in stations.

 


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