NYPD announces body scanning technology testing

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Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that the NYPD is pursuing a controversial new technology in the war against illegal guns: body-scanning devices.

“There are still far too many guns in New York, too many murders, and too many shootings,” Kelly said in his annual State of the NYPD address yesterday morning. “We employ the long-established right of the police to stop and question individuals about whom we have reasonable suspicion … But we need to do even more.”

Kelly said the NYPD, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, is working to develop a tool capable of detecting concealed firearms.

The device can read radiation, or heat, emitted from a person’s body. The radiation does not travel through metal, allowing officers to “see” the outline of hidden weapons.

“We hope to utilize the sensor as soon as it meets our requirements,” Kelly said.

The NYPD is testing the new scanners, which currently only work from three to four feet away. Kelly said he’s hoping they will soon operate at a distance of more than 80 feet. Police will install the scanners onto NYPD vans to direct at suspects.

But some are concerned that the NYPD will abuse its new power. Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, sees the new technology as a double-edged sword.

“On the one hand, if technology like this worked as it was billed, New York City should see its stop-and-frisk rate drop by a half-million people a year,” said Lieberman. “On the other hand, the ability to walk down the street free from a virtual police pat-down is a matter of privacy.”

Sean Barry of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots advocacy group, fears the NYPD will use the scanners to harass minorities.

“The NYPD will just repeat the same pattern of racially biased policing we’ve seen … in black and Latino communities,” Barry said.

Point: A new tool to make our streets safer

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s proposal to arm officers with a new high-tech device able to detect weapons on individuals from a distance might just be the advantage cops need in fighting crime and protecting lives.

As we’ve seen, no individual is safe from the random street violence that has penetrated our city’s streets. Innocent children to hero cops such as Police Officer Peter Figoski have all been victims of gun violence in recent months.

If new technology to detect weapons is in fact available, the NYPD should jump on the opportunity to obtain this equipment, train their officers, and begin taking illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.

My 20 years experience as a New York City cop has taught me criminals with concealed weapons are usually the most violent and treacherous. If in fact this instrument is furtherance of a “pat down,” or the “stop and question” of a possible suspect, so be it. If one believes that detecting a weapon or even a possible weapon on someone from a distance is an invasion of their freedoms or civil liberties, too bad. In this case as in many, the ends justify the means.

Detecting from a distance and seizing even one illegal gun is certainly worth any price the NYPD could pay for this high-tech advantage.

-Mike Codella is a retired NYPD detective sergeant and author of “Alphaville”

Counterpoint: A civil rights and liberties nightmare

This new policy is a civil rights and liberties nightmare, and a violation of personal privacy rights.

As a preliminary matter, does the new technology detect metal or guns? If it detects metal, will it also detect cellphones, pacemakers, and iPads? That would certainly be overly broad.

Moreover, the proposed policy is an even greater violation of people’s rights than the NYPD’s current stop-and-frisk practices.

The Fourth Amendment requires that police have reasonable suspicion before they search someone: We need to know who the police are going to scan and whether they will act only upon reasonable suspicion. There could be horrible scenarios where police aggressively stop, question, frisk, and arrest people on the street who don’t have a gun simply because they had metal in their pockets
Or, people could be stopped by law officers for no purpose at all.

I think this scanning technology is very troubling, and the police department needs to reconsider its use, or, at a minimum, assure New Yorkers that it will not infringe on their rights.

– Norman Siegel is a civil rights attorney and former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union
 



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