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U.S. deploys subway dogs, but N.Y. declines

(The following article by Sewell Chan and Matthew L. Wald was posted on the New York Times website on September 29.)

NEW YORK -- The Department of Homeland Security is spending $2.7 million to provide 30 bomb-sniffing dogs, along with training for their police handlers, to 10 transit agencies, including the subway systems in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington.

But New York's subway system, by far the largest and busiest in the country, is not one of them. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned down an invitation to apply for the money, officials said yesterday, because the grant would have come with restrictions that they called cumbersome and because the dogs could have been withdrawn and used elsewhere during a national emergency.

The decision not to seek the money comes after the authority has been repeatedly criticized as being slow and haphazard in its counterterrorism efforts, even after the Madrid train bombings in March 2004 and the London subway and bus bombings in July. Last month, the authority unveiled a $212 million plan for electronic surveillance throughout the system.

To participate in the federal program, each agency must supply three police officers to attend a 10-week training course, starting next month, at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio. Once deployed, each city's three canine teams - each comprising a dog and its handler - must spend at least 80 percent of their patrol time in the transit system. The grant also includes $120,000 a year for each agency to pay for police vehicles, veterinary care, food and uniforms for the dogs and officers.

Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the authority, said it declined to accept the money because of the requirement that the dogs be available for other federal purposes during a crisis. In addition, he said, the authority already has 25 dogs in its canine unit and hopes to double that in 2007.

"We do not turn down federal grants without a very good reason," Mr. Kelly said. "It was felt, in this instance, that it was not advantageous for us at this point."

But the federal official who oversees the canine program, David R. Kontny, said yesterday that the authority never expressed those concerns to him in conversations or in its letter turning down the invitation to apply for the money.

Authority officials, in their letter, were "pretty vague" about the reasons for not participating, but did ask that New York be given another opportunity to take part in the future, said Mr. Kontny, the director of the National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program, part of the Transportation Security Administration.

Mr. Kontny said the dogs would almost always be under local control. "We can move the teams during a national emergency, with the concurrence of that department," he said. "We won't arbitrarily just pull that team out and deploy it elsewhere." Canine teams were recently pulled from their home cities for Hurricane Rita and for the presidential inauguration in January.

Mr. Kontny said the authority sent representatives to an Aug. 10 meeting in Atlanta, during which the details of the program were explained. "The M.T.A. would be a beneficiary if there were a threat against New York," he said.

Seven of the 10 large transit agencies that were invited to apply for the money did so, and officials with those agencies said they were delighted to participate.

"This program grant is a win-win," Gary Gee, the police chief for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District in San Francisco, wrote in a letter to that agency's general manager, Thomas E. Margro.

Police officials with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston solicited volunteers who would be interested in the canine training and had to choose from "a large pool of very qualified applicants," said Lt. David F. Albanese, the special operations commander.

Kip Hawley, the assistant secretary of homeland security who runs the Transportation Security Administration, told a Senate committee last week that the canine teams were part of a "rapid deployment force" that could help local police in subway systems, ports and elsewhere.

There are 420 canine teams at airports, and putting 30 new teams in transit systems "adds an important element of unpredictability to enhance security," Mr. Hawley said.
The other large agency that got the federal money was the PATH commuter line, which is run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Besides the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New Jersey Transit and the Metra commuter railroad in suburban Chicago also declined the funds. The Maryland Transit Administration, the San Francisco Muni light-rail system and the San Diego trolley system were given the money instead.

Metra does not own any bomb-sniffing dogs, said a spokeswoman, Judith Pardonnet. New Jersey Transit's police chief, Joseph C. Bober, told federal officials it would be difficult to provide three dog-handler trainees on short notice.

Mr. Kelly, the authority spokesman, said officials wanted to retain full control over the authority's canine program, which started in 2002 with 17 dogs and has grown to 25. Next week, 10 additional teams of dogs and handlers will begin training, he said, and the goal is to have 50 teams by 2007.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

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