We found officers in security booths around the perimeter of the Trade Center complex and in police vans and cars, repeatedly with their heads buried in their cell phones rather than focused on their surroundings.
It's just before noon on April 8th, and this NYPD Officer with the Counter Terrorism Bureau is focused on his mobile phone, not on his surroundings. We check back nearly two hours later (1:46PM), he's again completely zeroed in on his phone, oblivious to the people walking by and even when there are sirens in the background, the officer never looks up.
On that same day (10:51am) in another security post at the World Trade Center complex, we observe an officer looking at his cell phone throughout his shift. Eyes on his phone at 10:51, and then again at 12:17, he's watching or reading something on his cell phone for minutes at a time. At 2:40 in the afternoon, he's still distracted by his mobile device rather than focused on his assigned duty.
We showed our video to people who work near the World Trade Center.
"This is the number one target in America, you'd think they'd be a little bit more alert than shown here," said Ray Jordan.
In the course of several days, our cameras documented 17 police officers repeatedly looking, texting, or e-mailing on their cell phones for minutes at a time while on watch around the World Trade Center perimeter. (
By far the most distracted, an officer whom during the course of her shift rarely looked up from her cell phone. She is fixated on it, seemingly unaware or unconcerned with what's going on around her, her guard post only feet from the most desired terrorist target in the world:
"It does suggest to me that they were distracted from their duties," said William Daly, a former counter terrorism expert.
This former FBI agent and current security expert says our investigation points to an over-use of electronic devices by officers that may leave the World Trade Center vulnerable.
"Whether criminal or terrorism they will look for that opportunity when police have their guard down. And in some ways what this is telling us visually was their guard was down," adds Daly.
Our video seems to suggest these officers are in clear violation of the department's cell phone policy which prohibits there use except when authorized or during a meal break.
Not all officers seemed distracted. We saw police watching people's behavior, on the alert, helping people or directing traffic. But it's the repeated and widespread use of mobile phones by other cops that raises serious questions about security at a location twice struck by terrorists:
"They appear to be distracted so if I had to wave and get attention I'd actually have to knock on a window and say, "Hey you?" said Susan Gempler.
One law enforcement official says this points to a lack of supervision of the World Trade Center detail.
We should also note that we tried FOR DAYS to get the NYPD to respond to our report, even offered to show them our video.
They did not return our phone calls or e-mail.
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