NYPD street officers are carrying radios that don’t work in the subway, making it impossible to call for help. The city has spent 15 years and millions of dollars trying to resolve the problem, but it’s still unclear when it might be fixed.
“Not being to communicate in this day and age is ludicrous,” said Nicholas Casale, a retired NYPD detective and the MTA’s former Deputy Director of Security for Counterterrorism. He pointed to Madrid and London as examples of transit hubs increasingly becoming terrorism targets.
In NYC, transit police can radio one another, but they can’t talk to street-level officers, who use a different frequency. To bridge the communication divide, the MTA and NYPD agreed in the mid-1990s to create a uniform radio network in the subway using above-ground frequencies.
But after spending $144 million in transit funds, only an FDNY network has been established.
The multiple police frequencies technically are trickier to resolve, and the project has been beset with numerous technical issues, mainly audio interference, experts said.
The NYPD, the Transit Authority and City Hall have deflected responsibility. The mayor’s office referred requests for comments to the NYPD, which in turn directed questions to the MTA.
“All were aware of the significant challenges that getting this system in place posed,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, adding that they are waiting for the NYPD to test some of the solutions.
The MTA won’t say how much it will cost to complete the system, and it’s unclear who will pick up the tab. Transit documents show it could cost $28 million to fix the interference problems alone.
Officials at E.A. Technologies, which has been working on the project, said the system was installed in 2007, but upgrades are needed.
We have “been waiting for a decision (by the MTA and NYPD) on when to proceed with the upgraded functionality for NYPD,” work that will take 9 to 12 months, wrote Ed Willner, president of E.A., in an e-mail.
Many New Yorkers were astonished to hear that the lives of cops and straphangers could be at risk because all emergency responders can’t radio communicate.
“What if someone was shot? What if there was a terrorist attack and they couldn’t get help? ” asked Sheila Firman, 67, of Brooklyn Heights. “In a time like this, when there are always threats, how can they not have working radios?”
(With Erik Ortiz and Dina Davis)