Don’t look up!
Try not to notice those black semi-spheres suspended over passengers’ heads.
They’re the reason the MTA won’t let you see a video that shows a Metro-North train pulling out of the Stamford, Conn. train station, leaving passengers who are banging on the door and waving to get conductors’ attention.
Or are they?
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro-North’s parent, argues that if you see the video, you’ll be able to suss out where their security cameras are. And that undermines safety, because if a wannabe criminal figures out where the cameras are, they’ll be able to commit their crimes in unseen areas.
That’s what they told me when I asked to see the video, which recorded a May 10 incident that led to disciplinary charges for the crew. (At the time of the original incident, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders acknowledged what had happened and issued an apology to passengers on behalf of the railroad.)
As far as figuring out where the cameras are, those black orbs, placed throughout the platforms, seem pretty much in plain sight to me. And they’re marked with the word Pelco, a maker of security cameras.
When I asked about them, the MTA would not confirm that they are cameras.
Could they be decoys? Could they be actual cameras, but supplemented by others that are hidden? Or could it be that the MTA is just too embarrassed to release the video?
(If you’re bothered about my showing the cameras, be assured that I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel that it was pretty widely known what security cameras look like. If the MTA had confirmed that they are, indeed, cameras, I would give people this advice: When you’re on a platform, make sure you’re near at least one of them and within view of it.)
The MTA’s response to my request was late, by the way. I’d been fighting for the release of the video since May, using the New York State Freedom of Information Law. (Even though the incident happened in Connecticut, I used the New York State law because Metro-North and the MTA are based in Manhattan.)
On Aug. 5, I faxed them an appeal to their initial denial (I had mailed a letter July 9, but they said they never got it.) Once it was sent, the law gave the agency 10 days to either turn over the video or fully explain why they were denying the request.
Several days later, I received a letter saying they would respond in three weeks. (It was dated Aug. 5, but when you file Freedom of Information appeals with the MTA, they communicate by letter through the Postal Service, so everything takes a couple of days longer than if you simply send an email.)
The extension did not meet the requirements of the law, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, a branch of the New York Department of State. The 10 day period they had was to send a full answer or the video I was looking for, not to ask for – or simply take — another extension.
“The law specifies, ten business days,” Freeman said. “Why should it be three weeks? How long does it take to look at the video?”
But so be it. Truth be told, I had let some time go by after seeing one or two of their responses.
So their answer took longer than it should have. On Wednesday, it came, again via the U.S. Postal Service, postmarked Aug. 28. Their final response: Denied.
I’ve mentioned their reason. At one point, the MTA argued, if you see video from a single camera, you may be able to tell where the “gaps” in surveillance are.
I didn’t quite understand how one camera’s view can show you the gap in the overall picture received from all cameras, any more than I know the sound of one hand clapping. And the MTA wasn’t offering any further explanation.
Unless they really are just too embarrassed by the video to release it. But that sounds strange when you consider that, had they released it in May, it would have been more than three months in the past by now.