February 2, 2004
Senator Nicholas A. Spano
1 Executive Boulevard
Yonkers, New York 10701
Dear Senator Spano:
Your proposed legislation, S5963, is ill-advised, terribly misguided, and poses a serious threat to public safety. The language in your bill, which states, "the primary function of a Bridge and Tunnel Officer is to collect tolls," demonstrates your complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the vital role of Bridge and Tunnel Officers, Sergeants and Lieutenants. Frankly, it is an insult to the 1000 dedicated, highly professional Officers, Sergeants and Lieutenants who serve MTA Bridges and Tunnels, New York State and New York City.
While it is true that BTOs collect tolls, this is just one function of their job although it is an important one since they generate for the MTA more than $600 million in surplus revenue, which benefits your constituents who commute by Metro-North Railroad. The scope of a BTOs job has always extended far beyond toll-collecting. It encompasses a multitude of duties, a large part of which includes law enforcement. Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the law enforcement role of BTOs and Superior Officers has increased dramatically to insure the safety and security of MTA bridge and tunnel facilities. The fact is, Bridge and Tunnel Force are now an integral part of Federal, State and City homeland security initiatives.
Perhaps you would not have proposed this reckless legislation if you had taken time to familiarize yourself with the complexities and services, including the multitude of law enforcement functions, that our men and women provide on a daily basis. Putting aside for the moment the dramatic increase in law enforcement duties since 9/11, the following provides a detailed overview of our daily functions:
Make arrests and issue summonses. Perform other law enforcement functions, such as providing testimony in court and administrative hearings. Patrol structures and roadways by foot and vehicle to secure the safety of all
Perform fire rescue, and put out and contain vehicle fires.
Enforce laws and regulations concerning the transport of hazardous materials, as
well as assist other agencies in accidents involving hazardous materials.
Apply vehicle and traffic laws, penal law, criminal procedure law, and MTA
Bridges and Tunnels rules and regulations.
As first-responders to traffic accidents, medical and other emergencies, administer first aid, CPR and medical attention to injured motorists.
Direct and clear traffic lanes on bridges, in tunnels and on toll plazas.
Assist stranded motorists involved in vehicle breakdowns.
Respond to emotionally disturbed individuals.
Resolve problems in E-Z Pass lanes.
Interact with and provide assistance to motorists, such as travel directions and
Operate emergency vehicles.
Complete forms and reports.
Communicate and work with other law enforcement officials.
Remove debris and overturned and disabled vehicles from bridges, tunnels, plazas
and roadways leading to the facilities.
Provide snow removal. Law enforcement and military agencies and divisions within these agencies, such as the NYPD, FBI, National Guard, State Police and NYPD Harbor Patrol, as well as others with which BTOs, Sergeants and Lieutenants share mutual respect and cooperation, recognize and acknowledge the Bridge and Tunnel Forces as vitally essential to homeland security. Its no secret that our bridges and tunnels rank high as terrorist targets which is why since 9/11:
All personnel have had their firearms upgraded from .38-caliber revolvers to semi-automatic weapons, carrying them at all times while on duty.
All personnel receive more intense training and instruction in firearms, fire rescue, hazardous materials handling and clean-up, first aid and CPR, and many other areas of law enforcement, environmental enforcement, and fire and medical response. (We have always received training in these areas, but the training has
become more intense and frequent since 9/11.) Every bridge and tunnel facility has an instructor who provides on-location training as well.
We receive intense training in counter-terrorism, including weapons of mass
destruction. (The training they receive in WMD has been used as a template in
instruction in this area of counter-terrorism for the NYPD.)
We have become part of the Citys highly trained Counter-Terrorism Response
We have become part of the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force and the Citys
Office of Emergency Management.
We now carry pepper spray and expandable batons like the ones issued to NYPD officers. Our personnel foot and vehicle patrols have increased dramatically on bridges, in tunnels, on toll plazas and other sensitive areas of MTA bridge and tunnel facilities.BTOs man counter-terrorism and high-security posts at critical locations on MTA bridge and tunnel facilities.
We monitor around-the-clock surveillance cameras.
We now carry radios connected to the citywide law enforcement system.
We implement frequent unannounced and planned checkpoints at bridge and tunnel facilities. This activity increases during heightened terrorism alerts, holidays and other significant days of the year.
We work closely with the National Guard and State Police, particularly when the terrorism alert status is elevated.
Bridges and tunnels serve as a natural checkpoint because motorists are forced to stop to pay their toll, whether by cash or E-Z Pass, at the MTA Bridges and Tunnels facilities that our Bridge and Tunnel Force serve which include the Throgs Neck Bridge, Bronx -Whitestone Bridge, Triborough Bridge, Henry Hudson Bridge, Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Cross Bay Bridge, Marine Parkway Bridge, Queens Midtown Tunnel and Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
Despite causing traffic snarls when administering the checkpoints, BTOs are embraced by motorists who willingly cooperate because they are relieved by the security measures in place. BTOs inspect all types of vehicles, often focusing on unmarked vans and other suspicious trucks. In fact, BTOs at the Queens Midtown Tunnel were honored by Governor George E. Pataki for capturing a terrorist on the FBIs 10 most-wanted list during routine checkpoint activity. In a recent random checkpoint, BTOs discovered a rig carrying a missile. Although it turned out to be a government vehicle, it put an exclamation point on the value of BTOs to homeland security. Imagine if this was a terrorist transporting a dirty bomb. BTOs have arrested others with terrorist ties, as well as numerous other criminals, including those involved in hit-and-run accidents, and still others who use the bridges and tunnels as escape routes after committing a robbery.
In 2003, BTOs made 627 arrests (up from 434 the previous year), ranging from DWI and suspended licenses, to weapons possession and use of illegal drugs. They also issued 43,492 summonses in 2003, which generated millions of dollars in revenue for New York State and New York City. BTOs provide a strong visibility that deters criminals, and perhaps even terrorists. DWI arrests have been so strong over the years that BTOs have been honored on numerous occasions by MADD (the acronym for Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
One fact is clear: Much of the duties and work performed by our Bridge & Tunnel Force is law enforcement-related. The reality is, BTOs perform virtually all of the same vital tasks that law enforcement agencies, like the NYPD, provide. So why the desire on your part to abolish the position of BTO, Sergeant and Lieutenant? Obviously, such legislation would be counterproductive and have a direct negative impact on public safety.
If it is your perception that our service is duplicated by MTA Police, once again, you are terribly mistaken and misinformed. If there is any duplication or overlap, it is only one very narrow area and it has occurred only because of 9/11. Furthermore, it is the MTA Police duplicating a service, not BTOs. Since 9/11, the National Guard, State Police and MTA Police have joined BTOs to bolster the protection of our bridge and tunnel facilities. MTA Police, in particular, take up vehicle patrol on a sporadic basis at best. This could hardly be construed as a duplication of service.
With all due respect to MTA Police, BTOs are on the job day-in and day-out at MTA bridge and tunnel facilities. BTOs know every inch of these bridges and tunnels and, after reading their job functions, even you would agree that they are highly trained and highly qualified in all aspects of their job. If there is overlap with MTA Police, it comes in a very small part (vehicle patrols, and only since 9/11) of what BTOs already provide. MTA Police members are not equipped or prepared to perform the vital services like checkpoints, counter-terrorism posts, foot patrol, fire rescue services and others outlined above.
You would better serve your constituents in Westchester and the entire population of New York State and New York City by introducing legislation that would bolster the law enforcement arsenal of BTOs during this new age of terrorism in which we live legislation that would provide such resources as bomb-detecting dogs; a harbor unit; an emergency services unit and even more intense and expanded training.
In conclusion, eliminating BTOs would set the State and City back 50 years. It would impact the amount of revenue generated for the State and City, and it would seriously weaken homeland security efforts in the five boroughs, Westchester County, Nassau County and Suffolk County. This proposed legislation would be a terrible disservice to the millions of motorists who depend on BTOs for safe and secure MTA bridge and tunnel facilities. You are being urged to consider rescinding your proposed legislation, S5963. Thank you for your consideration on this vital matter.