Passengers planning to travel through Union Station in the next few weeks will have to get used to being watched more closely.
New Haven’s Union Station is installing 26 surveillance cameras using $250,000 from the Urban Area Security Initiative — a federal initiative meant to combat terrorism statewide, officials said. Although government officials said the new cameras will undoubtedly make Union Station safer, they said New Haven’s proximity to New York City is the primary reason that the cameras are being installed.
“The number one reason we’re doing it is because Connecticut has 100,000 people a day who commute into the city of New York,” said Wayne Sanford, deputy commissioner of the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “We want to offer them every measure of security we can.”
The cameras are being installed as part of a pilot program specifically designed to increase security at some of the busiest train stations in Connecticut, including stations in nearby Westport and Branford.
Sanford said the decision to select the three stations was made by a transportation advisory committee made up of both city and state police officials and the Metropolitan Transit Authority for New York.
“It’s really that committee that has identified which stations they would like to have the cameras put in,” he said.
Eugene Colonese, rail administrator for the Department of Transportation, said although the urgency behind the initiative has been fueled largely by fear of a future terrorist attack, the cameras are meant to deter all crime, not just terrorism. He said he thought that the installation of security cameras in Union Station was long overdue.
But the government’s decision to install security cameras has come under fire from some passenger advocacy groups that are labeling it as an ineffective strategy that will lead to “behavioral profiling,” a situation in which any person exhibiting “suspicious behavior” can be detained.
Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he thought surveillance cameras are a poor deterrent to terrorism and have been proven ineffective in the past. The July 2005 bombings of the London Underground are an example of how increasing surveillance will not necessarily curb criminal activity, he said.
“The only deterrent to terrorism is police making random bag searches on trains,” he said. “[Currently], Metro-North is the only company that doesn’t [search bags]. If I’m a bad guy, and I want to bring a bomb to Grand Central, what do I do? I get on Metro-North.”
Some students who frequented the station said that they found the decision surprising.
Emma Smith ’09 said she goes to Union Station at least twice a month on her way to see her sister in New York but has never thought of it as a potential terrorist target. The cameras are more likely to cut down on local crime than terrorism targeting New York, she said.
“I can’t say that I’d ever been in Union Station and felt as though I were in danger of a terrorist attack,” she said.
The station, about a 10 minute drive from central campus, services train lines such as Amtrak and Metro-North that run along the Northeast Corridor.