By DAVID B. CARUSO
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK- Hundreds of Manhattan buses will be outfitted with surveillance cameras as part of a security upgrade prompted by bomb attacks on public transit in London and Madrid.New York City Transit officials said the initiative will begin to bring New York into line with other big cities that have put cameras on buses and trains in recent years.
"We started looking at doing this after Madrid, and we really started looking at it in earnest after London," said transit system spokesman Paul Fleuranges, referring to the 2004 attacks that killed 191 people in Spain and 52 people in England.
The effort will be the city's first major attempt to conduct regular video surveillance on either trains or buses since an abandoned pilot program involving about 100 Bronx area buses in the late 1990s.
These are different times, and this program may have more staying power _ although authorities are quick to say they do not expect the main value of the system will be an ability to detect or deter would-be bombers.
The cameras, positioned around the bus and its exits, will probably record common criminals, such as vandals etching graffiti on bus windows and purse snatchers.
"This is primarily an anti-crime, anti-vandalism initiative," Fleuranges said.
Everything the cameras see will be digitally saved for 45 days and then erased.
Transit security personnel will not be monitoring the images in real-time, meaning that their primary value, other than as a deterrent, will be allowing investigators to see what happened inside a bus after a crime has already been committed.
While New York has long used closed circuit cameras to monitor subway platforms, it lags behind other cities with more expansive systems.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began installing cameras on buses 10 years ago and now has video on all but 300 of the 2,500 in its fleet. Trains recently began getting cameras as well.
The Chicago Transit Authority has had a surveillance camera on every bus since 2003 and recently ordered more than 400 train cars equipped with seven cameras each.
Washington D.C.'s Metro system has cameras on about a third of its 1,500 buses and will add 142 more over the next few months.
Officials recently announced plans to implement a network of motion-sensitive cameras able to raise an alert if someone leaves a bag in a subway station for too long.
The $25 million (euro19.5 million) program to install cameras on buses will also put recorders near turnstiles in about 60 subway stations. If the program is successful, it will be expanded throughout the bus and subway system.
Still undecided is whether cameras will be added to moving trains.
The fast proliferation of cameras has raised some concerns from civil liberties groups.
"Before we start spending millions of dollars of law enforcement resources ... we need to really look at what these video cameras accomplish, whether there are better ways to do it, and whether there is a downside for individual privacy," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
She said that at the very least, there should be limits on who has access to the recordings, how long they are kept on file and what they can be used for.