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As New York law enforcement agencies and businesses consider how to improve security as part of the plan to rebuild lower Manhattan, they are looking to London for ideas on guarding against potential terrorist attacks and fighting crime.
The hallmark of London's strategy is what officials call "the ring of steel." The phrase refers to closed-circuit cameras and narrow roads that encircle the City of London, the neighborhood that houses London's financial district as well as such historic sights as St. Paul's Cathedral. The narrow roads create just a few entry points to the area that police can block off, if necessary, while cameras photograph anyone entering or exiting the area. The neighborhood also has its own police force.
The New York City Police Department is considering erecting a similar "ring of steel" around lower Manhattan. Paul Browne, NYPD's deputy commissioner of public information says that while it's "still too early in the process" to comment on specifics, police officials are most interested in the elements of the "ring of steel" model that involve using more closed-circuit TVs and introducing controlled entrances and exits into the area.
"In creating the plan for the World Trade Center site, we are looking at best practices around the globe as we seek to create a new state-of-the-art security model," James Kallstrom, counterterrorism adviser to New York Gov. George Pataki and designer of the new World Trade Center site's security plans, said in a statement last week. Mr. Kallstrom declined to comment beyond the statement.
The NYPD declined to say which lower Manhattan streets, if any, may be narrowed. It's unlikely New York City officials will allow a separate police force to cover lower Manhattan defined as south of Chambers Street and West Street to the East River by the Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit group comprised of companies and business owners. While recent discussions have focused on lower Manhattan, a law enforcement official close to the situation said the NYPD's plans may extend to midtown Manhattan as well.
New York officials have been looking at London systems since last summer, after suicide bombers attacked London's subway system and a bus on July 7. Cameras captured time-stamped photos of the bombers as they entered the subway, and others who attempted a similar crime a few weeks later, and helped identify the suspects. A team of New York police officers visited London for five days in September and were given access to the City of London's security and investigative procedures and talked to officers, according to James Hart, the City of London's police commissioner.
Similarities between lower Manhattan and the City of London are likely to help authorities with their planning. Both neighborhoods are about a square mile in area. Some 300,000 commuters travel through each area daily. Both are global financial hubs, with banks and stock exchanges that remain targets for terror attacks.
In both cities, the subways are major funnels bringing people into the neighborhoods and vulnerability points. Closed-circuit cameras monitor the London Tube, as the subway is called. In New York, the subway system went further than the rest of the country though still not as far as London's when it unveiled a $212 million project with Lockheed Martin Corp. in October of 2004 to install 1,000 closed-circuit cameras with 3,000 sensors. The project, which isn't expected to be completed until 2008, includes a command center that will monitor the cameras in real time.
The New York police have 3,100 closed-circuit cameras in 12 housing projects and additional cameras in select parts of the city, including lower Manhattan. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said that the city should install additional cameras. Police say the cameras have slashed crime rates by double digits in the housing projects. Mr. Kelly declined to comment for this article.
London implemented the ring of steel in 1993, after Irish Republican Army bombings struck the city and other areas in the early 1990s. Many of the measures in London largely go unnoticed. The City has 16 entry and 12 exit points where the roads were narrowed and marked with iron posts painted a decorative red, white and black. The posts also deter truck bombs. Recent upgrades include extending the security zone to the north and west, and adding cameras, Mr. Hart says.
At each entry point, a camera screens license plates and feeds the data to a computerized system that can flag stolen or wanted vehicles. If a wanted car is spotted, a control room at police headquarters can be alerted within four seconds. Last year, the system read 37 million plates and identified 91,000 positive matches for wanted vehicles. Nearly 550 arrests were made as a result. In London, "you're always on CCTV somewhere," says City of London police constable Phil Rudrum.
A network of closed-circuit cameras are mounted on the sides of building or on poles. The images are streamed live to police headquarters in the City and are monitored around the clock.
Civil liberty concerns have been raised but following IRA bombings in the 1990s, many Brits haven't raised civil-liberties objections to the cameras.
"The trade-off is that the prevention and disruption of terrorist activity is certainly worth the risk," says Mr. Hart, adding that the force has pledged that the monitoring system will not be used to prosecute minor crimes such as littering.
Such measures, though, will face privacy concerns in New York. To bolster its objection to the potential for the government to use photos invasively, the New York Civil Liberties Union last summer sent 10 college students to count surveillance cameras in the city.
They found the number of cameras in lower Manhattan had increased to 1,300 from 446 in 1998. The group says it plans to recommend to the New York City Council and state legislature limits to how the city uses CCTV photos.
"The NYPD has to develop policies that protect individual privacy and that do not turn us into a surveillance society where people have to worry that every move is being captured on camera," says Donna Lieberman, executive director of the liberties group.
The NYPD's Mr. Browne disputes the notion that surveillance data would be misused. "Our interest in cameras is for crime suppression," he says.
The City of London's police force is separate from the rest of London, which is serviced by the Metropolitan Police Service, also known as Scotland Yard. The U.K. government is weighing whether to merge the two, a move the City of London and businesses oppose.
Many investment banks in the City of London appreciate the presence of a special police force. One cold gray afternoon this week, for example, Mr. Rudrum, the constable, walked his beat, checking in with security officers at each building where he stops. His stroll takes him past a pub and then Merrill Lynch & Co., where he also visits with security.
Security experts from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. have also been involved in the discussions.
Just weeks after the London bombings, Mr. Hart met in Manhattan with security experts from the investment firm, which is building a 2.1 million square-foot headquarters near the site of the World Trade Center.
"We regularly report possible terrorist and criminal activity to the police and receive a first-class response," Goldman Sachs managing director Paul Deighton wrote in a letter of support for the City of London force. "Normally a police officer will be at our offices within two minutes of our making a telephone call."