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SurveillanceNew Jersey “Texting against Terror” program a success

Published 11 October 2012

A $5.8 million federally funded program allowing New Jersey Transit commuters to “text against terror” has received 307 tips to the agency since the program started in June 2011; of those 307 messages, seventy-one have “referred to something regarding homeland security,” said Christopher Trucillo, chief of N.J. Transit Police

A $5.8 million federally funded program allowing New Jersey Transit commuters to “text against terror” has received 307 tips to the agency since the program started in June 2011.

Of those 307 messages, seventy-one have “referred to something regarding homeland security,” said Christopher Trucillo, chief of New Jersey Transit Police.

“Someone saw something that made them uncomfortable that required us to take secondary action, like an unattended bag or someone taking pictures in a particular area.” Trucillo told Asbury Park Press.

The majority of those seventy-one texts did not lead to further investigation, although “in a rare instance, we need to follow them up and refer them to the (state) Joint Terrorism Task Force,” Trucillo said.

The task force consists of the New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority Police, DHS, and other agencies.

The Asbury Park Press reports that calls to the program are answered at a N.J. Transit Police communication center. When a text message is received on a computer, the screen turns red and a loud alarm flashes. Customers receive a confirmation text back from N.J. Transit Police saying their message was received, regardless of the message they sent.

The Text Against Terror program started with a $5.775 million DHS public awareness grant. Without the grant the program would not exist. The money from the grant paid for advertising through radio and television as well as on trains and buses. Some of the ads were played on TV and radio in New York City, which has some of the highest advertising rates in the country.

Officials increased the number of ads for the campaign in the weeks preceding the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Ads promoting the service aired 4,023 times on radio and TV from 27 August to 8 September.

“We live in a dangerous world and in an area where two significant terrorist events happened (in 1993 and 2001),” Trucillo, who was a Port Authority police captain on the day of the 2001 attacks, toldApp.com. “We ask people to understand that we do it with their best interests in mind and to make the public aware of counterterrorism efforts, so we can keep mass transit safe.”

The 9/11 attacks were one of three massive terrorist attacks on mass transit. In 2004 ten backpack bombs were set off on a commuter rail system in Spain killing 191 people and wounding another 1,800. In 2005 suicide bombers set off bombs on buses and subways in London killing fifty-two people and wounding 700 others.

The text messages that have been sent as a result of the program have ranged from suspicious activity to customer service information to accidental messages according to Trucillo.

The idea for the text-tip program originated after Trucillio said he read a New York Times article on how people prefer to communicate.

“Our customers are in a closed, tight environment; we’re asking them to report suspicious behavior, but we have to make it safe for them,” Trucillo told App.com. “They may not feel comfortable picking up the phone when someone is sitting two seats away. Text tips are convenient.”

Trucillo now hopes the three-year grant will be renewed in order to advance the program, which has already started using Facebook and Twitter as a way for more commuters to send tips and communicate with other riders.

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