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Officers posted at train tunnels are now riding, too

(The following article by Al Baker was posted on the New York Times website on May 9.)

NEW YORK -- The New York Police Department has changed the way it protects subway tunnels that cross under rivers, taking some officers away from fixed posts near tunnel entrances and putting them on trains for at least part of their shifts, officials said yesterday.

The changes are meant to give police officers more mobility, the officials said, and are the second major shift in underground antiterrorism tactics in New York City since the bombing of three subway trains in London last July.

The effort also includes having roving teams of officers spot-check the ends of the tunnels and assigning others to walk the miles of tracks inside the tunnels themselves.

"We are trying to have a layered defense of the subway system; it cannot be everything protected at all times," said Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's chief spokesman. "There are elements of change and shifting coverage that we want in order to disrupt the kind of reconnaissance we know terrorist organizations engage in."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has embraced the moves, some of which were first reported yesterday in The New York Post. "We change our strategy all the time," he said. "Hopefully, we are constantly improving our security."

After the bombings of three London trains and a bus on July 7, 2005 — which killed 56 people, including the four bombers, and wounded hundreds — the New York Police Department took several steps to protect the city's subways, including posting officers around the clock in little white booths on platforms near the 14 subway tunnels that crossed waterways. Those fixed posts, 37 in all, became known as Omega booths.

Now, the department has reverted to a plan that more closely resembles what was in place before the London bombings, Mr. Browne said. It was proposed by Assistant Chief James P. Hall, who recently took command of the Transit Bureau, and was approved by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. It went into effect this week, Mr. Browne said.

Under the new plan, officers leave the Omega booths at various times to ride the subway trains that traverse the underwater tunnels, then return to the booths. During the 5- to 10-minute rides, they stay in the front car to better see the tracks, Mr. Browne said, adding that no booth is unoccupied for more than an hour at a time. The roving groups of officers include a lieutenant, two sergeants and 16 police officers. Three times a day — at the morning and evening commuter rushes and at midday — the groups, called Atlas teams, meet to receive assignments and then visit tunnel entrances and exits.

In addition, four officers known as an "emergency tunnel team" walk the tunnels looking for suspicious packages or people and checking to make sure emergency exits have not been compromised — that they have not been used, for example, to allow someone to get into the system. All 14 tunnels are to be checked every two weeks, Mr. Browne said.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

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