October 20, 2011
By BRYAN FITZGERALD
A scathing report by the New York Civil Liberties Union on the use of Tasers by law enforcement agencies slammed police departments across the state, including Albany, for what the NYCLU said is unwarranted, improper and poorly documented deployment of the electroshock weapons.
The report, of which the Times Union received a copy before its release Wednesday, said police departments inadequately train officers on how and when to properly fire hand-held Tasers. Using data taken from 851 incident reports of eight police departments since 2005, it singled out Albany police for failure to deter officers from using repeated and prolonged Taser shocks. The report also said Albany police disproportionately deployed Tasers on blacks compared to whites, more so than any other department in the study. In the Albany incidents analyzed, 68 percent involved a Taser being used on a black person, the report said, while 28 percent of the city’s population is black.
Albany police Chief Steve Krokoff said Tuesday he would not comment on the report until he had a chance to review it.
Incident reports from Glens Falls, Guilderland and Saratoga Springs police were also analyzed in the study, along with those from Greece, Nassau, Rochester and Syracuse.
The report suggested that, as a whole, Taser policies across the state are in dire need of sweeping reforms.
Inappropriate Taser use is a systemic problem in police departments, the NYCLU reported, saying that begins when officers are insufficiently trained on using the weapons. The issue is compounded by inconsistent and incomplete Taser policies and a lack of both departmental and state oversight. Officers’ reports of their use of the weapon did not provide enough information, and follow-up was at times lacking, the report said.
The NYCLU said the majority of departments rely too heavily on Taser manufacturer guidelines rather than expert-recommended protocol from the Department of Justice or the Police Executive Research Forum. The report said 60 percent of Taser incidents analyzed did not meet the NYCLU’s recommended criteria, defined as an incident where a police officer can document “active aggression or risk of physical injury.”
“We had to obtain (reports on) all these incidents to get this picture,” said Corey Stoughton, an attorney for the Manhattan-based NYCLU and co-author of the report. “Departments need to make good decisions and see if how they are using Tasers is really making their communities safer.”
Tasers were first used by police in New York in 1999 as a safe alternative to firearms and physical confrontation against violent or threatening subjects. Tasers are currently used by more than 350 law enforcement agencies in the state and 16,000 nationwide. One shock from a Taser can contain up to 50,000 volts of electricity. The NYCLU said multiple or extended shocks can significantly increase risk of injury, and, in rare cases, death.
Besides upholding constitutional protections against excessive force, each arm of law enforcement is left to draw up its own policies on Taser use.
Fifteen percent of incidents analyzed in the study involved a subject who was passively or verbally noncompliant with a police order or where a suspect was already handcuffed or restrained, the report said.
In 75 percent of the incidents, the subjects were not verbally warned by the officer before they were shocked, the study said.
According to the report, one third of the incidents involved either multiple Taser shocks or a shock lasting longer than the manufacturer’s standard discharge of five seconds.
September 20, 2010
CBS New York
As many as 500 cameras have been placed in nearly every corner of three of the busiest transit hubs in New York City – in the stairwells and on the platform.
All of them are keeping a close watch on who and what’s going in and out of our subways.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t waste time talking about the subways, “which we know terrorists regard as what they would call high value targets.”
Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder announced the city’s newest security initiative on Monday.
Hundreds of MTA subway security cameras placed in Grand Central, Penn Station and Times Square are now directly piped into the NYPD’s security operation center, allowing police eyes in places where they didn’t have them before.
“And seated here in the operation center … we have police officers reviewing this information 24 hours a day,” Kelly told CBS 2′s Scott Rapoport.
It’s part of a plan that was initiated in 2005. The MTA cameras are now joining the more than 1,000 security cameras that are already in place in lower Manhattan, on which the NYPD keeps a watchful eye.
It’s a significant move in the wake of May’s failed Times Square bombing and the plot of Najibullah Zazi year ago to bomb subway trains.
“We are also beginning to use software that identifies potentially suspicious objects or behaviors,” Kelly said.
Earlier this year, Mayor Bloomberg went to London on a fact-finding trip involving that city’s vast network of 12,000 cameras monitoring the train system.
It’s something MTA chief Walder is familiar with and something he said makes sense for New York.
“We’ve taken on the unwanted distinction as one of the leading terror targets in the world,” Walder said.
News of the move was greeted fondly by a lot of subway riders.
“I think it’s a very good idea quite honestly,” one person said.
“Absolutely. Why not? Like, it’s our protection,” added Blake Clendenin of Hell’s Kitchen.
“It’s an invasion of privacy, but if I’m in the subway I like the cops looking over my shoulder,” added Barry Zimmerman.
And the mayor and the police commissioner said they’re not done yet, with more camera hook-ups coming soon.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said it has questions about the surveillance program regarding privacy issues and who has access to the information gathered.
It said it has previously sued the NYPD and Department of Homeland Security for access to that information and that both of those suits are ongoing.
May 5, 2010
by Sebastian Smith
New York officials say they could stop attacks like the attempted Times Square car bomb by expanding a controversial surveillance system so sensitive that it will pick up even suspicious behavior.
New York is already a heavily policed city, with 35,000 officers and a counterterrorism bureau — the first of its kind in the country — partnering the FBI.
But Saturday’s failed terrorist bomb in the Times Square tourist hot spot has provided the authorities with a new argument for expanding a sometimes controversial security blanket of cameras, sensors and analytical software.
The system “will greatly enhance our ability and the ability of the police to detect suspicious activity in real time, and disrupt possible attacks,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
The high-tech system, modeled on the “ring of steel” in London’s financial district, is already in service in lower Manhattan, where Wall Street and the World Trade Center reconstruction site are located.
Headquartered at 55 Broadway, the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative goes far beyond the traditional hodgepodge of police cameras, such as the 82 devices installed around Times Square.
Instead, an integrated system maintains an unblinking eye, not just watching, but constantly collecting license plate numbers and video of pedestrians and drivers, as well as detecting explosives and other weapons.
An important component of the program is coordination between the police network and private businesses’ cameras, something that has not been established in Times Square, causing detectives significant extra work.
Also, a separate, but similar program called Operation Sentinel plans to log every vehicle entering Manhattan island by scanning their license plates and checking for radiation.
Last October, Bloomberg announced plans to expand the lower Manhattan system into Midtown, including the Times Square area.
On Sunday, New York police chief Raymond Kelly reiterated the plan and used the occasion to press for more federal funding from Washington.
Kelly also gave details about the system, explaining how the aim is for “analytic software” allowing experts to make sense of raw information in real time.
For example, alarms would trigger when cameras noticed an unattended bag or a car circling a block too many times to be considered normal, Kelly said.
“This is a whole new area for us,” he told Fox News. “We’re very enthusiastic about it.”
Bloomberg said the city has budgeted “more than 110 million dollars to expanding the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and incorporating it with the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative.”
That large-scale, yet simultaneously detailed intelligence gathering clearly pays in some terrorism investigations.
Officials point out that acquiring the ingredients for a bomb or weapons exposes plotters to precisely the kind of surveillance New York is promoting.
Kelly noted on Fox News that Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi found it “very difficult to get explosives” for his plan to bomb the New York subway system. A major piece of evidence against him was security camera footage of a shopping trip for chemicals in Colorado.
Similarly, although the Times Square bomber tried to disguise the car, it was still quickly traced, providing detectives with an important lead.
But while law enforcement officials tout a brave new world of security, rights groups fear a “big brother” presence violating fundamental privacy.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has sued the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to extract more information about the Manhattan security system and to
know how the information will be used, shared and stored.
The irony is that the lowest tech responses can sometimes best the most sophisticated gizmo.
The misfiring of a device hidden in the underpants of a Nigerian passenger and the quick reaction by others on the US-bound flight prevented potential tragedy in a December 25 attempted airliner attack.
And in Times Square, a vigilant street vendor and nearby beat cop — not a computer — raised the alert on the suspicious vehicle.
“Think about the street vendor. Think about the passengers on the flight on Christmas Day,” said Republican congressman Pete Hoekstra.
“All of these people perhaps were the difference between a major disaster and actually what happened: a failed terrorist attack.”