Rail cops go great guns
Last Updated: 11:06 AM, March 30, 2010
Posted: 3:20 AM, March 30, 2010
Stand clear of the submachine guns.
In an unusual move, a heavily armed NYPD security battalion with enough firepower to wipe out Downtown Brooklyn descended onto the city's subway trains yesterday in response to suicide bombings in Russia that killed dozens of passengers in Moscow's subway.
Bleary-eyed New Yorkers began their work weeks with a morning rush hour that featured city cops in full military gear, including helmets, goggles, body armor, sidearms and M16 assault rifles.
The underground arsenal startled sleepy straphangers, many of whom wondered whether the extra security was overkill.
"I think it's excessive," said Holly Celentang, 26, a rider from Queens. "It's Easter this week, and you have families with young kids on the subway, and I'm sure cops with machine guns would scare them.
"I feel there should have been a bit more of a thought process before they did this. We can't lose our heads over something that happened in another country and make New York City look like we are at war."
Torey Deprisest, 23, who was vacationing from Ohio, said he was stunned at the show of force.
"I think it's ridiculous," Deprisest said. "The attack happened in a different country and had nothing to do with Americans. I'd be nervous seeing cops with machine guns on the train. It makes people afraid when they don't need to be."
But other riders praised the heavily armed cop presence.
"I don't think it's overkill. We need to be protected -- you never know," said Renee Burke, 56, of Manhattan. "After 9/11, we learned the hard way that anything is possible. I feel protected when I see police riding the subway."
Joe Kerick, 46, of New Jersey, agreed, saying: "Better overkill than under-response. If the terrorists see an under-response, they may think we are vulnerable."
City and MTA officials dialed up security a few notches after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in twin attacks on the Moscow subway system early yesterday morning, killing at least 38 people.
Officials quickly said the coordinated attacks were isolated to tensions between Russia and dissident Chechens. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blamed Islamic separatists in the Caucasus region, where Russian forces fought the Chechens a decade ago.
Even so, New York City authorities said they were taking no chances. Officials doubled patrols of the subway system and dispatched NYPD's heavily armed Hercules units to several transit hubs, including Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.
Regular NYPD cops usually assigned to the city's subways overnight also were held in place so they overlapped with the day tour.
Mayor Bloomberg said authorities "did ramp up our coverage a little bit this morning" after the Moscow bombings.
"We change it every day, and for security reasons, obviously, we're not going to tell anybody what we're doing," Bloomberg said. "But you can rest assured we have great interest in what goes on around the world."
An NYPD spokesman said there was no indication that the Moscow attacks were related to anything planned against the New York City subway system.
Officials said cops made similar armed forays after 9/11 and after attacks on London's transit system in 2005 killed 52 people.
But the presence of the heavily armed cops actually on trains is rare.
Several al Qaeda-linked subway bomb plots in the city have been foiled in recent years, including a plan by Afghan immigrant Najibullah Zazi to detonate a bomb on the system.
Local Russians followed the Moscow developments closely and denounced the attacks in their home country as senseless.
"I feel so terrible," said Vladimir Traynin, 51, of Brooklyn's Brighton Beach. "I lived five minutes from where it happened, and I know the area very well. I feel scared for people's safety. They are in shock."
Oleh Kachur, 46, also of Brighton Beach, said the attack did not surprise him.
"You can predict this for now and in the future," Kachur said. "It's a problem of religion. We have to treat people equally whether they are Chechen or Russian."
Additional reporting by Tom Namako, Rebecca Harshbarger and Michael Blaustein