DHS Has Spent Over $1 Billion on Public Transit Security and Surveillance

There is probably no safer place than public transit stations and vehicles. Despite what you see in the movies and on TV, the incidence of crime is rare. But since the 9/11 attacks, the Dept. of Homeland Security has provided over $1 billion in grants to public transit agencies through the Transit Security Grant Program. A large chunk of that money has gone to visual surveillance systems.

For the 2015 budget, the DHS wants to eliminate dedicated public transit grants — though transit agencies could still apply for funding under a different National Preparedness Grant Program.

The American Public Transit Assoc (APTA) has come out against this idea. In fact, APTA wants another $6 billion:

We are well aware of the many pressures on our nation’s budget and the importance of addressing other national funding priorities; however, the current level of transit security funding is woefully inadequate as the Transit Security Grant Program is the primary source of funding for security needs of public transportation agencies. To put the current level of investment in transit security into greater perspective, we note that a 2010 APTA survey of its members found security investment needs in excess of $6.4 billion nationwide. APTA urges Congress to acknowledge the risk that our citizens and transit systems continue to face, and restore appropriations for the Transit Security Grant Program in this and subsequent appropriation bills to levels closer to those authorized under the 9/11 Commission Act.

When transit agencies receive the DHS funding, they don’t pretend it has anything to do with terrorism. Trimet (to use one example) spent $5 million for 4,400 cameras, with an additional $7.5 million in the pipeline. The cameras were useful for catching vandals and gropers. That kind of criminal certainly deserves to be punished, but they are hardly Al Qaeda.

The sad thing is that there is one very significant part of the transportation system that could benefit from surveillance cameras: our roads and highways. Speed cameras are proven effective in reducing crashes and injuries. Just imagine if $1+ billion had been spent on that.