The rise in subway shootings in New York City has led to Mayor Eric Adams proposing a unique idea — placing gun detection scanners throughout the metro transit system to prevent shootings before they occur.
The mayor referred to existing technology often used in sports stadiums or theme parks that can scan large numbers of people quickly for weapons.
While the technology exists, security experts say the plan is not exactly feasible given the size of New York’s subway system, with its 472 stations and multiple entrances and exits.
Experts said the problem is that for every scanner, the city would also have to employ a human — preferably a police officer — to operate it and confront those carrying illegal firearms.
“Logistically, it would be a nightmare. You’re going to have to tie up a lot of officers doing this,” retired NYPD captain James Dooley told the AP.
“We have hundreds of stations, and the fact of the matter is that putting someone at every entrance to every station is logistically impossible,” he stated.
Adams, a former police captain himself, agreed that there would be challenges but said the technology could have value as a deterrent when used in specific locations.
He likened the strategy to car checkpoints to catch drunk drivers.
“We want to be able to just pop up at a station someplace so people don’t know it’s there, similar to what we do when we do car checkpoints,” the mayor said.
New York public transit security has been a hot topic since a gunman opened fire on a subway car and let off smoke bombs last month, wounding 10 riders in the attack.
Nearly a month later, a passenger was shot and killed in another apparently random attack, leaving the public wary of taking the subway.
Nationwide, preventative measures for mass shootings are gaining greater media attention following the recent Buffalo and Uvalde shootings.
The gun-screening technology employs sensors that detect metal objects resembling the shape of a gun as people pass entrances and does not interfere with people’s movement.
Evolv, the Boston-based company that produces the screeners, has sold its product to sports stadiums in Atlanta and Nashville.
According to the company’s website, the screening tech can scan 3,600 people per hour. However, they can also produce false positives.
“Any technology is only one piece of the solution which includes the security professionals, the operational environment and the protocols they follow,” Evolv Chief Marketing Officer Dana Loof told the AP.
Similar screening devices produced by England-based defence tech company QinetiQ were tested by Los Angeles law enforcement in a 2018 pilot program for the city’s public transit system.
At present, it’s not clear how much the technology would cost New York, but it could be over the city’s budget as it would require both the screeners and the manpower to operate them.
Rand Corp. senior policy advisor Donell Harvin said the cost of increased police officers and screeners would ultimately be passed on to the public.
“If you have a determined assailant, you’re not going to just have a security guard there; you’ll have to have a police officer,” Harvin said. “It’s tough. You can harden every station, but who’s going to want to pay a $10 fare? Because the cost is going to be passed on to the rider.”
To improve transit safety, the NYPD has also taken steps to increase police presence underground. The department has added around 1,000 more officers to patrol the system.
Experts are hopeful that more riders following the COVID-19 pandemic will also naturally lead to greater safety.