Niagara Gazette — U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called Tuesday for additional funding to support counter-terrorism efforts by the region's leading transportation agency.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Schumer asked for an application for anti-terrorism funding submitted by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's Transit Authority Police Department be given top priority in light of numerous recent threats to Western New York and the surrounding region, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Western New York is no stranger to terror and security threats – including the plot to do unspeakable damage to a passenger train over the Whirlpool Bridge," Schumer said, referring to the recent foiling of plot to disrupt rail service in Canada near the Falls. "Clearly, now is not the time to dial back on border and transit security. However, if the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t step up and approve the NFTA’s application for a counter-terrorism grant, that is exactly what could happen as the vital NFTA’s Western New York Counter-Terrorism Team would be disbanded.
"The Canadian terror plot, the Lackawanna Six, and the terribly unfortunate events in Boston should make us more vigilant in New York’s big cities and their transit systems, not less," Schumer continued.
Specifically, Schumer wants the federal government to use grant funds to support the NFTA's counter-terrorism team which consists of six transit police department officers and its two explosive detection dogs. Schumer said the unit will run out of funding and be forced to disband in May unless additional federal dollars are made available.
Schumer's office credited the team coordinates counterterrorism efforts with the Buffalo Police, FBI, DHS and Customs and Border Protection, with a particular focus on both regional airports, the light rail and the bus system – a favorite target of past terror plots in America and Europe.
The NFTA has previously been awarded funding from the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP), some of which funded the creation of this counter-terrorism team. Schumer said much of this funding has been shifted in recent years, and the continued support of this team is at risk.
Schumer is being joined by NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel and NFTA Police Chief George Gast in the effort to convince the Department of Homeland Security to approve the NFTA- Transit Authority Police Department’s application for funding through the FY2013 Transit Security Grant Program.
DHS will be issuing a new request for applications to this program at the beginning of May, and Schumer is pushing DHS to not only fund the NFTA’s application but to do so quickly, so that the Unit stays on the job in Western New York.
“The NFTA’s Counter Terrorism Unit provides a platform and ability for our department to interact both proactively and reactively with other law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal levels in a unified effort to combat terrorism and provide a safe and protected transportation system in Buffalo Niagara,” Gast said in a statement released by Schumer's office.
“Providing a safe and secure transportation system for our customers each and every day is an overriding goal of the NFTA’s,” Minkel added. “In light of the tragic events that occurred in Boston recently, it is incumbent upon all of us now more than ever to have the means necessary to thwart criminal activities in our public transportation system.”