Today, at the NFTA Aviation Police Headquarters, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the NFTA- Transit Authority Police Department's application for an anti-terrorism federal grant, in light of numerous recent threats to Western New York and the surrounding region, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing. Specifically, Schumer will fight to see that the federal government supports the NFTA's counter-terrorism team of six Transit Police Department Officers and its two explosive detection dogs, which will run out of federal funding and disband in May, unless new funding is secured. This team coordinates counterterrorism efforts with the Buffalo Police, FBI, DHS & 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. However, much of this funding has been reprioritized in recent years, and the continued support of this team is at risk. Schumer was joined by NFTA Executive Director Kimberly Minkel and NFTA Police Chief George Gast to call on 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.
"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. 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," said Schumer. "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. I am urging the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the NFTA counter-terrorism force, so that these highly trained specialists and their canine team can continue providing expertise and doing life-saving work 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," said George W. Gast, NFTA Chief of Police.
"Providing a safe and secure transportation system for our customers each and every day is an overriding goal of the NFTA's," said Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA executive director. "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."
Intelligence gathering and the sharing of information is one of the main forces behind counter terrorism efforts. The NFTA's Counter Terrorism Unit has been deployed on numerous occasions working with the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, FBI, Customs and Border Patrol and New York State Police to ensure the ongoing safety of the Buffalo region.
In the past, the NFTA has received federal grants through this program that have funded several different projects that bolster border security at the Buffalo--Niagara crossing. Particularly important is the TSGP - Operational Packages program, which provided $2.2 million in 2009 for the NFTA to hire and train six Transit Police Department Officers to create a counter-terrorism team. The grant also allowed the NFTA to purchase and train two explosive detection dogs. That team allows the NFTA to better protect transit passengers through enhanced police presence and additional anti-terrorism security measures on all of Buffalo's transit system. If federal funding for this team of six specialists and two canines is allowed to run out, the team would be disbanded, leaving a significant gap in security in Western New York. These individuals would work in the NFTA's general force, and would no longer have the training and resources to advise the NFTA and other local, state and federal law enforcement officials in the region.
Schumer highlighted that the entire nation has benefited from the skills of this special team, when the NFTA canine teams traveled to Washington D.C. to protect passengers of the District's Metro System during the Presidential Inauguration in January 2013. The NFTA teams were two of 12 brought in by the Department of Homeland Security, chosen especially for their training and ability to sniff out explosives.
Last year the NFTA applied for a $1.4 million TSGP grant funds to continue to support the Counter-Terrorism Unit, but were denied the funding due to a lack of availability. This year, the NFTA is not only applying request support for the Counter-Terrorism Unit, but will also seek continued funding for crowd-control support at large Buffalo Events and other transit security measures. Schumer is urging DHS to fund this critical program this year, because any further delays would lead to disbandment of the Unit
Schumer noted that due to constraint on the federal budget in recent years, larger, often coastal cities have taken priority for the Transit and Port Security Grant Program. However, Buffalo is a prime spot for such investment, given it is one of the top border-crossings from Canada and given the history in the last decade of potential, and achieved, terrorist action in Western New York, from the Lackawanna Six to the recently foiled Canadian terror plot on the Maple Leaf passenger rail line. Finally, three illegal crossing attempts were broken up by Border Patrol agents in March. A citizen of Kosovo, with a long history of criminal convictions was taken into custody after he attempted to cross the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge. Six hours later, Border Patrol agents in Buffalo apprehended two Guatemalan citizens who were attempting to cross the border behind a freight train.
"Because Buffalo is one the most common points of entry into the United States from Canada, and due to the recent threats to the region, it is evident that this specialized transit counter-terrorism team must continue boosting security for the region," continued Schumer.
A copy of Senator Schumer's letter to Secretary Napolitano can be found below:
Dear Secretary Napolitano,
I write in strong support of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) Police Department's application for funding through the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) FY2013 Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). The recent foiled al-Qaida supported terrorist plot to attack a Canadian passenger train on the Maple Leaf line running through Buffalo and Niagara Falls demonstrates why it is critical to support law enforcement in Western New York near the Canadian border.
TSGP grant funding for the NFTA's Police Department will provide critical support to local law enforcement officials in the State of New York as they work to develop more enhanced border security and robust anti -- terrorism security measures.
Protecting transportation infrastructure near the U.S. -- Canada border is essential to preventing possible deadly attacks like the recent plot fortunately stymied in the planning stages in the future. The NFTA's executive committee currently contains an inter-agency group of members from the DHS Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, Buffalo Police Department, DHS Transportation Security Administration, Erie County Sheriff's Office, and the NY State Police, among others. The NFTA is specifically seeking funding for the following critical projects, in order of priority:
· TSGP ARRA - Operational Packages - This project provides for six Transit Police Department Officers and gives the new employees the necessary equipment, support, and training. The purchase and training of two explosive detection dogs is also provided with grant funds. As a result of this investment, the NFTA will be able to better protect transit passengers through enhanced police presence and additional anti-terrorism security measures.
· Advanced Regional Counterterrorism Technology Innovation Center - The Mission - Recognize, identify and prevent terrorist activities in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls transportation modalities. ARCTIC will provide shared situational analysis and awareness of integrated regional transportation security information to all Western New York Law Enforcement and Homeland Security agencies, as well as Federal, State, and Local partners.
· 2011 TSGP - NFTA Operational Activities on Overtime - This project provides $455,766 for directed patrols and VIPR operations during highly attended events in downtown Buffalo as well as during high threat Holiday periods. These directed patrols and VIPR operations are centered on anti-terrorism activities performed by the NFTA Police Department.
I believe it is critical that DHS fund these projects and allow the NFTA to better protect transit passengers through enhanced police presence and additional anti-terrorism security measures. Buffalo is the most commonly used point of entry into the United States from Canada, and with recent threats to the region, it is evident that these projects, particularly the specialized transit team of officers, would be an important boost in security for the region.
I recognize the difficult funding constraints in which the Department is operating under and thank you for your hard work towards securing our nation and the support you give to our law enforcement institutions. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer