Huffpost New York

Bloomberg Taking Cues From London's CCTV-Obsessed Security

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LONDON — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Britain's capital in a fact-finding mission Tuesday in the wake of the thwarted Times Square bombing, visiting centers where experts monitor a vast network of security cameras – one of the largest in the world.

Bloomberg wants to ramp up the security camera network in New York City's subways to mimic that in London's underground train system. London authorities say the city's train stations are watched by more than 12,000 cameras, and in a few years they aim to install a few thousand more. Officials say the additions would mean every person's face would be recorded when they enter the subway system.

New York City has far fewer such cameras – about 4,000 along its subways – and Bloomberg has complained that half of them don't work. Police, instead, have had to rely on regular patrols and random bag searches.

"Crime rates in both the subway systems in London and New York City are as low as you can get, but there's always the threat of terrorism. ... Wouldn't you want to be safe?" Bloomberg told reporters. "I am here to learn from others, see what works best, and try to fix things before they become a problem."

Bloomberg said it wasn't clear whether more cameras would have thwarted Faisal Shahzad's alleged effort to set off a car bomb in Times Square earlier this month, but said the presence of additional CCTVs might have discouraged Shahzad from trying.

London has one of the world's highest concentrations of surveillance cameras, with an expanding ring of them encircling the central business district. The so-called "ring of steel" was the inspiration for a 3,000-camera network being installed in lower Manhattan and midtown New York.

The New York Police Department hopes to install the 3,000 cameras by the end of 2011. It is also using private surveillance installed in major buildings as part of a massive security initiative.

Bloomberg's spokesman Jason Post said the mayor was particularly interested in London's transit system security because the two cities and their subway networks were roughly the same size.

Like New York, London has been beefing up its counter-terrorist measures since a series of bomb attacks on the capital. More than 50 commuters were killed and hundreds were injured when four suicide bombers attacked London's subway system and a double-decker bus on July 7, 2005.

Two years later, two cars laden with improvised explosives were discovered on the same morning in central London's entertainment district. Those thwarted attacks bore striking similarities to the failed Times Square bombing in New York.

In the wake of the attacks on London, British terrorism minister Alan West led talks with local authorities, emergency services and shopping mall operators aimed at lowering the risk from terrorism.

Mall security managers were put on high alert for car bombs, and briefed to make regular 20-minute checks on delivery vehicles or other vans entering zones closed to the public. Security officials have also recommended linking camera systems to automatic number plate recognition software, hoping to flag up suspicious traffic.

An estimated 4 million closed circuit television cameras operate in Britain, and some civil liberties campaigners have warned the country is becoming a surveillance state.

Bloomberg acknowledged what he called "very serious" concerns about civil liberties and the use of surveillance cameras. But he said the threat of global terrorism had forced authorities to make adjustments.

"There are collections of data, screening that we have to do keep ourselves safe that were unthinkable a few years ago," Bloomberg said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson said the cameras have been instrumental in driving crime down and piecing together key intelligence pieces.