By Gary Tilzer
Broken malfunctioning cameras are not the main problem with the video system operating in the subway. The problem with the subway cameras is that roughly 70% of them are not closed-circuit (CCTV), meaning they do not provide live feeds to the NYPD or the subway’s command center, they are basically tape machines ineffective in stopping crime. The subway cameras cannot identify a rider acting unruly, to send in officers, to stop a crime from happening. Their only purpose is to help cops catch criminals after they commit a crime, if the video machines are not broken like they were during the recent shooting of subway riders by Frank James on the N train at the Sunset Park 36th street station. After James shot ten and left a dozen wounded in the panic that followed, he was in the wind for a day, and could have shot more New Yorkers. Police sources say the malfunctioning cameras at the 36th Street station prevented them from getting an early lead on his whereabouts, and a solid description.
After the London terrorist bombing in 2005 that killed 52 UK residences those in charge of the Underground, their subway system, built a live closed-circuit video station network that is monitored by the police to protect English riders. After the World Trade Center bombing in 2001 the MTA tried to build a CCTV system here in NYC, but like most things NY’s government does it spent billions on tech venders like the Lockheed corporation, and nothing was fixed or accomplished. Does anyone still riding the subways think the de Blasio administration spending billions on politically connected nonprofits and one billion wasted by his wife’s nonprofit ThriveNYC, helped reduce the homeless army occupying our subways? The only thing NY’s government excels at is throwing pay to play billions at problems and not fixing them.
The MTA proudly announced in September of 2021 that all of its 472 subway stations now have security cameras. But it was really a cover your ass move which according to its own report two year earlier, reported that just over a third of subway stops had cameras. There were many critical stories at that time the report was issued asking the MTA why all the stations did not have cameras and where the billions they spent to install video went. The MTA was warned a decade ago that its video system was a mess and continued to spend money, hiring more tech venders without a workable plan or strategy. The NY Times reported in 2010 that “more than eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the subway’s video surveillance system, one of the key tools the city has in deterring and investigating attacks of any and all kinds in the subways, remains a patchwork of lifeless cameras, unequipped stations, and problem-plagued wiring. The MTA reported that of the 4,313 cameras that were installed in 2010, more than 2,000 are not operable.
Since 2019 in a public relations effort to put cameras in all of its stations, the MTA installed cameras that only tape to a computer server, not CCTV. The recently installed cameras tape riders jumping over turnstiles and walking though exit gates. The cameras attached to tape recorders are easier to install, cheaper, and “provide material that can be retrieved and used in the investigation of crimes, but they don’t stop crime. Since the DAs are not prosecuting fare beaters, the turnstile cameras are meaningless to help what the late NYPD Deputy Police Commissioner Jack Maple called the COMPSTAT, his plan to stop crime. Maple’s strategy was to discern underground crime patterns and to dispatch police officers accordingly. Crime was reduced in the subway by 27% using Maple’s methods. Close circuit TV has potential to be an even more effective tool in fighting crime than Maples analyzing crime statistics, to dispatch police to stop crime. But the MTA is focused on more public relations nonsense and not building an effective aggressive crime fighting tool that London has been using for almost two decades.
MTA Chairman, Janno Lieber, said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is on track to lose $500 million because of fare evasion. Instead of developing a plan to attach station cameras to a close circuit live network, Lieber is putting together a special panel, another public relations effort, to address its loss of fare problem, which includes NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks, executive director of the Asian-American Federation Jo-Ann Yoo and David Jones who runs the nonprofit Community Service Society of New York. We would like to have a reporter ask Lieber or members of his new panel how cameras connected to tape machines stop fare beaters?
On a more important note: How do tape machines help stop another Mentally Ill homeless man like Martial Simon from making a random attack on another Michelle Go who was waiting for an R train at the Times Square station at 9:20 a.m. on a quiet Saturday morning when he pushed her into the path of an oncoming train, killing her. Albany despite Mayor Adams efforts did nothing to find solutions to control homeless people suffering from schizophrenia and other kinds of mental illness. Adams wanted to give judges the power to institutionalize very sick people like Simon in hospital, Albany refused which means the future Simon’s continuing to ride the subway and will not make the news until they attack another New Yorkers, pushing them off the platform. The local press is waiting for the next person to be pushed to their death to cover the homeless mentally ill crisis.
“What employers were saying is, ‘We’re hearing from our employees increasing subway crime is the obstacle in terms of returning to work,’” — Kathryn Wylde, head of the Partnership.
For Simon, NY’s dysfunctional government meant an endless circuit of mental hospitals (20 times) and jails (convicted of two prior violent felonies), outpatient psychiatric programs and the streets. For the rest of us it means we still face the same danger as the late Michelle Go from the mentally ill homeless roaming our subway and streets. The press does not think Albany’s refusal to fix this deadly problem in a state election year is worth covering. We are told that NYC’s economy will not recover until the subways are made safe, we are not told by the media how the state government has blocked efforts to make them safer, in an election year when all of the state elected officials are up for reelection. Does the Partnership and its members understand that there is something wrong with the NY local media, that does not educate New Yorkers what is really happening in their city.
London vs. NYC Subway Cameras: The MTA Incompetence Has Caused Death, Increase Danger and is Blocking the City’s Economic Recovery
Viewing footage from cameras tape machines in a station’s communications room, requires an extra step. In 2019, the MTA got more than 12,000 requests to pull video from its cameras, requiring more than 53,000-man hours. With more cameras added since then, the MTA in its report wrote that “manually retrieving video will become more impractical and untimelier.” But it comes nearly two decades after the 9/11 terror attacks that sparked the MTA’s effort to create a Closed-Circuit TV camera system on the city’s subways. It is clear that the MTA still does not know what to do to accomplish what London did in 2005 by building their CCTV in their Underground (subway). Even with the fact that today’s modem Wi-Fi technology has made CCTV easier and cheaper to build. 17 years after the London bombing, the UK’s underground subway has 15,516 close circuit cameras. NYC subways have tape machines aimed at turnstile jumpers who the DA’s won’t prosecute. 18 years after 9/11 and billions spent on installing subway cameras,” Nicholas Casale, a former MTA counterterrorism expert said to the Times “the MTA is in the business of trying to get trains and buses to run on schedule, they’re not in the security or police business,” no kidding.
The one lesson the tragedy Uvalde school shooting proved is that effective communications to a crime scene saves lives. The MTA needs to ask Elon Musk to take over control of NYC’s subway camera system to attach all the cameras to a live close circuit system, which could be monitored in a new COMPSTAT transit NYPD headquarters.
“I think that’s the best piece of advice: Constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” — Elon Musk
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has live cameras inside the spaceship he built from launch, to docking with the International Space Station, to landing in the ocean, and recovering on his ship. He has plans to use his cameras in a new Starship this year or next to take the public along to moon landings with astronauts and by the end of the decade to land on Mars.
Out of the box thinker Musk would build an MTA smart camera system, that would not only connect live subway cameras to a central monitoring center, he would connect the cameras on stations to their local police precincts, he would also connect the live video feeds to every officer NYPD issued cell phone, so they can check out areas near where they are patrolling. When Michaele Go was pushed in front of the train, there were cops in the Times Square stations but not on the R train platform. If the cops inside the extensive 42nd Street station that have several platforms, would have seen a homeless mentally ill man, acting irrationally on their cell phone, they would have run to the R platform, along with other live video connected cops on the nearby streets. Musk would also use the same cameras he used on his out of space starship on each subway train so not only the NYPD can monitor the trains real time, but that train operator and the conductor opening doors, can alert police any time they spot a problem on their train. The train operator can also stop the train if he sees trouble or is warned by a central video monitoring operator of trouble in the station he is about to enter. Musk would even install live video cameras outside of the train stations and along the walking routes riders take coming and going home from the subway, to prevent crimes stopped in the stations from spilling over to outside streets.
Retired MTA bureaucrats, retired cops or retired elected officials are paid lobbyists for tech companies looking for MTA contracts. Currently the MTA does not have any security cameras in place on any subway cars that are currently in passenger service, while the London Underground has at least two of its lines with cameras in each train car connected to their CCTV monitoring system. The MTA is awaiting an order for 535 new subway cars manufactured by Kawasaki that come with pre-installed cameras. You want to bet the new train cars’ cameras are connected to tape machines. It took over 20 years to install tape machines in every station that are useless to prevent crime. Is it a case of dumb and dumber as the years roll by? Or does the MTA which wasted over twenty-five years to build the Eastside Access Project which started in the 1990’s with a price tag of $300 million, and not being finished hopefully this year with a price tag of $11 billion, more interested in giving out contracts to politically connected tech firms or protecting it riders from increasing crime? That is an easy answer.