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Port Authority terminal security issues

April 15, 2011 5:14:48 PM PDT
The Port Authority bus terminal in Midtown is the busiest the world, so you would think there would be some screening of vehicles that drive directly underneath the building, especially in light of recent terrorist attacks in India.But an Eyewitness News exclusive investigation conducted by Sarah Wallace showed otherwise.

When Port Authority police officers first told Eyewitness News how easy it is for vehicles to drive right underneath the Port Authority bus terminal unchallenged, we were skeptical. Remember, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was by a Ryder truck that drove right into the parking garage. Then, we saw the easy access for ourselves.

Sarah rode in a private vehicle accompanied by a longtime Port Authority police officer, driving in designated bus lanes that go in and out of the terminal. She drove past now-empty police booths.

The officer said the booths part of a specific post as the result of 9/11. As if lost, the vehicle drove right under the bus terminal in the bus lane, at one point even driving the wrong way.

And no one ever challenged it. The car drove in and out and around various bus lanes for nearly an hour, right past the departure gates and past parked buses.

Wallace: "We're just driving through where it says buses only."
Port Authority officer: "That's it."
Wallace: "And no one's stopping us."
Officer: "We haven't been stopped yet, have we? We used to have a post...to check everybody coming up."

The car even parked for awhile.

Officer: "People can just park here, leave a car here and no one's going to question it."
Wallace: "What should be happening about now?"
Officer: "There should be some notice made to the police, and there should be a response of some sort."
Wallace: "Is this a fluke?"
Officer: "Oh, no, this happens every day."

The officer said that after 9/11, buses were randomly inspected and any other vehicles were stopped, trunks and ID's checked.

"Since 2005, there's been nobody checking cars getting in there," he said. "People getting lost all the time, construction workers are in these sensitive areas, nobody's checking them."

Sarah asked the superintendent of police Samuel Plumeri to review our video.

Wallace: "We understand from a number of officers there is no screening of people getting into terminal through the bus lanes."
Plumeri "That's what the officers are telling you."
Wallace: "Is there screening?"
Plumeri: "We have surveillance, investigation, oversight."

Plumeri claimed he was unaware of any problem, although officers copied him in a memo in July warning that unauthorized vehicles were gaining access into areas sensitive to the overall safety and security of the bus terminal.

"This is a safe facility," Plumeri said.

He says that even though on certain shifts, personnel logs we obtained show that staffing is down by nearly half of what it was in the years right after 9/11. There are 14 to 16 officers on duty versus 30.

At least five posts have been completely eliminated, including those we passed, unchallenged, on our way into the underside of the terminal.

"To me, that's a problem, because if you could do it, I'm sure a terrorist could do it," the Port Authority officer said.

Plumeri suggested that possibly we didn't get stopped because someone somehow figured out we were with a police officer. But for a number of different reasons, it's highly unlikely anyone could have known he was a cop. And certainly no one checked.

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STORY BY: Investigative reporter Sarah Wallace

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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