A new cross-Atlantic alliance between Amtrak and the British Transport Police hopes to collaborate and cooperate on security and counterterrorism practices.
In the years since terrorists attacked mass transit, in Madrid and London, transportation and law enforcement agencies around the world have begun to recognize the benefits of security cooperation. In one example of the developing partnerships among international groups charged with transportation security, members of the British Transport Police (BTP) recently visited the United States to exchange railroad security and counterterrorism practices with U.S. rail service Amtrak.
The BTP, a national police force for U.K. railways, spent five days in March observing Amtrak’s security operations on board trains and at train stations in Washington, Baltimore, Maryland, and New York City. The visit was conceived at a 2008 international counterterrorism rail-safety conference. Its objective was the exchange of lessons learned and best practices for enhanced passenger screening programs, such as those BTP has been developing since the attacks on the London Underground.
The BTP passenger screening program, called the London Underground and National Railways program (LUNR), began in 2006 as a trial conducted by the U.K. Department for Transport and other stakeholders, including BTP. The U.K.’s railway system has 2,500 stations, 11,000 miles of track, and carries one billion passengers a year. During the trials, the stakeholders concluded that although screening equipment and dogs can be effective in the railway environment, it’s not yet feasible to use 100 percent airport-style screening.
Through its LUNR program, the BTP is enhancing its stop and search capabilities with the use of mobile x-ray equipment for screening bags and the deployment of specialist search dogs, which they call “passive dogs,” because they screen the air for explosives in the wake of a passenger, rather than having contact with a static person or bag. Amtrak refers to them as “vapor wake” dogs.
When BTP realized that Amtrak had a similar canine program, it approached the U.S. company about the cross-Atlantic exchange. Sharing information could help both projects develop more quickly, says Sergeant Neil Forsyth from the BTP’s explosive search dog section.
The training of the Amtrak dogs as well as the way they indicate the presence of possible explosive material and the actions the officers take afterward differs slightly from the methods of the BTP, Forsyth says. There are “a number of issues I’ll go back and discuss with the rest of our training staff as to whether we could deploy a similar tactic and what value that would offer to us,” he says.
Because some differences in approach are cultural, some Amtrak procedures may not be appropriate for BTP, but Forsyth says it is still useful to see Amtrak’s program firsthand and how American passengers react to the security methods.
For example, the groups use different breeds of dogs. In the U.K., most screener dogs are Labradors or Spaniels because they are seen as friendly. In the United States, most explosive detection dogs are German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois.
BTP officers wear brightly colored jackets for very high visibility. In addition, BTP officers are usually unarmed. “They have armed response units similar to what we call ESU (Emergency Service Units) that come in with their weapons,” says Curtis Hart, Amtrak’s deputy chief of police. But these armed BTP officers do not routinely display their weapons as is done in the U.S. system.
While at New York’s Penn Station, the visiting team of BTP officers witnessed a Multi-Agency Super Surge, or MASS, involving Amtrak, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police, the New York Police, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police, the New Jersey Transit Police, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Army National Guard.
“What we’ve seen has been very impressive,” Forsyth says. “And looking around at the traveling public, they seem very comfortable with what they’re seeing.”
@ View the LUNR trial report via the “Beyond Print."