It’s liberty vs. security on the subways, and the speaker wants to film it
The backdrop was perfect Monday morning as City Council Speaker Gifford Miller outlined steps to further intensify subway security. Cops and National Guard members chatted behind the mayoral candidate. Commuters heading down the stairs to the 4-5-6-7 trains saw signs warning of random bag searches. The newspapers in the riders’ hands detailed Sunday’s tour bus standoff in Times Square.
Miller was asked about the cops’ response to the tip from the tour bus driver that some of his passengers were suspicious. “I think our police department needs to respond when there are concerns,” Miller said. “I’m not going to second guess the police department.” But he was willing to second guess the MTA’s response to the security risks to NYC Transit, calling it “piecemeal and reactive.”
Since before the first wave of London bombings on July 7, Miller has staked out security as a signature issue. He teamed up with Giuliani-administration emergency management boss Jerry Hauer in June to call for a homeland security czar in New York. And his campaign made sure that reporters noted when Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin seconded the call for a buck-stops-there security chief.
The plan Miller described Monday included elements he has previously proposed, as well as new stuff. He wants the mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to take over subway security from the MTA, so security is “in the hands of security experts rather than MTA bureaucrats.” He’d like 911 phones in subway stations and radio repeaters in the tunnels and a thousand new cops assigned to transit security. But the centerpiece of the plan is surveillance. Miller wants cameras “in every last subway station.” He vows that if elected mayor, he’d install 1,750 new cameras in 18 months. As for who would watch the cameras, Miller says the city should “take advantage of new technology”—Chicago, for one, is using cameras that alert cops to suspicious activity.
New York hasn’t yet gone the way of letting computers select terrorist suspects for the police. What it has done is implement random bag searches in subways, commuter trains and busses. The New York Civil Liberties Union, among others, has criticized those searches as illegal. Not Miller—if anything, he said, the policy came too late. “If searches are necessary, they were necessary before the second attack in London,” Miller said. “It suggests that what we have here is a reactive policy.”
Miller was asked if he thought the searches were constitutional. “I think that in a post–9-11 world we have to realize that times have changes and the balance between liberty and security has shifted a little,” he replied. Given that it was, arguably, the most liberal Democratic mayoral candidate in New York City saying that, and not John Ashcroft, Miller may have proven his own point.