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Increase bus, rail, station security, commuters say

(The following article was posted on the White Plains Journal News website on October 5.)

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A new survey finds that Rockland commuters generally feel safe at county train and bus stations but want more security at those facilities.

The commuters in the study, which was commissioned by Assemblyman Ryan Karben and county Legislator Ellen Jaffee, want better lighting, more police on-site and more training for train and bus drivers.

"This is an insight into what's on the minds of commuters in the post-9/11, post-London bombing environment," said Karben, D-Monsey. "Clearly there's an anxiety and a need to improve security and the perception of security at our mass transit facilities."

Shortly after the July 7 subway bombing in London, Karben and Jaffee hosted two public hearings in Haverstraw and Pearl River to look at the adequacy of security measures at local mass transit facilities and areas for improvement. Commuters, local law enforcement officers, bus operators and transit officials attended.

They also conducted a survey of approximately 100 commuters, overwhelmingly those who travel to New York City, Westchester or New Jersey by train or bus, to gauge their thoughts on the issue.

Part of the problem is the lack of standardization of security features from station to station, or even within the same transit system. For example, the Nanuet train station has video cameras tracking activity on its platform and parking lot. Rockland's other four train stations do not.

Orrin Getz, a New City resident who takes the NJ Transit express from Nanuet at 6:32 a.m. each day, lobbied for improvements at the station several years ago.

When told of the survey's results, Getz, who is also the Rockland liaison for the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, said the lack of security was far from exclusive to the county.

"I don't think any of the commuter rail stations have the security they should," Getz said.
The Port Authority TransHudson (PATH) train is the model that officials should follow, he said. The trains have round-the-clock surveillance, patrols on the platform and emergency phones.

Karben and Jaffee, D-Suffern, are now calling for the implementation of Operation Vigilance, an initiative that would step up security at county bus and train stations and park-and-ride commuter lots by increasing police presence and adding surveillance equipment, emergency phones and lighting.

Rockland Sheriff James Kralik said many of those things had been done now. Since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, police departments across the county have set up dog teams on train station platforms, paid surprise visits to stations and bus depots and handed out "See Something, Say Something" fliers in four languages.

"We do it randomly now because our resources are a little weak," said Kralik, who added that the challenge was finding funding.

Jaffee said there were two sources that could provide money for the security upgrades.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority collected more than $19.2 million from mortgage and sales taxes from county residents last year. Of that amount, she said, $3.9 million came back to the county for various transportation projects and services. Even if other money was designated for the county, she said, she didn't believe it totaled the amount that the county paid.

"It seems to me there's somewhat of a gap," Jaffee said.

Karben added that MTA police patrol train stations in Westchester County, but none in Rockland. That must change, he said, and he plans to send a copy of the report and a letter to the MTA next week.

An MTA spokeswoman said the agency would take the two lawmakers' recommendations under consideration, but that she could not comment without seeing the letter.

Jaffee also noted that the federal and state governments don't consider Rockland a high-risk target and, as a result, the county has been denied about $1 million in anti-terrorism funding under the federal Urban Area Security Initiative. It is the only county in the metropolitan area that is not receiving the funds.

On Sept. 7, Jaffee and Karben sent a letter to James McMahon, director of the state's homeland security office, requesting that Rockland be included in the anti-terrorism program, which provides money for planning, equipment, training and the needs of high-density urban areas that are considered to be at high threat.

"That's an enormous amount of money that could be of assistance to us," Jaffee said. "If we are able to get that designation, we certainly would be able to provide for additional security upgrades."

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

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