NYC piloting electromagnetic weapons detection, expanding clinician program on subways

March 29, 2024
The city will soon begin piloting technologies designed to detect firearms carried by travelers on the subway system, as well as begin to hire clinicians to support the expansion of the Subway Co-Response Outreach Teams.

New York City (NYC) will soon begin piloting emerging technologies designed to detect firearms carried by travelers into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) subway system, as well as invest in more clinicians to help those suffering from mental illness.  

In accordance with the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, the New York Police Department (NYPD) also published online its Impact and Use Policy for electromagnetic weapons detection systems, starting a mandatory 90-day waiting period before new technology can be tested and used in NYC.  

The city will begin hiring clinicians to support the expansion of the Subway Co-Response Outreach Teams (SCOUT), a pilot program launched in October 2023 in partnership with the state of New York and the MTA to connect people with untreated severe mental illness in the subways to mental health treatment and care.  

“Keeping New Yorkers safe on the subway and maintaining confidence in the system is key to ensuring that New York remains the safest big city in America,” said NYC Mayor Eric Adams. “Today’s announcement is the next step in our ongoing efforts to keep dangerous weapons out of our transit system and to provide greater mental health services for New Yorkers in crisis. By kicking off a 90-day waiting period to test electromagnetic weapons detection systems here in New York City and hiring more clinicians for SCOUT, we are showing our administration’s dedication to keeping all New Yorkers safe.”  

“Since the start of my administration, Mayor Adams and I have worked together closely to keep the subways safe for all New Yorkers,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. “This month, I announced a five-point plan to improve safety in the subways, including dedicating $20 million to expand the SCOUT program, which will help more New Yorkers receive the treatment they need. The new technology announced today builds on our existing commitments to place cameras throughout the system and will help law enforcement keep dangerous weapons out of the system.”     

The SCOUT pilot program has operated with two teams in the subways focused on connecting those with untreated severe mental illness with mental health support and long-term care. SCOUT teams are comprised of a clinician and two MTA police officers and, in the 90 days of operation, the two teams have moved 90 individuals out of the subway system and into care. The state’s $20 million commitment to scale the pilot will bring the total number of SCOUT teams to 10 by the end of 2025.  

During the 90-day waiting period before the new technology can be tested and used, the NYPD will be working to identify companies with proven expertise in weapons detection technology. At the end of the waiting period, a pilot program will be instituted in some subway stations, where the NYPD will be able to further evaluate the equipment’s effectiveness.  

As of March 24, 2024, NYPD officers have seized a total of 450 weapons — including 19 illegal guns — in the NYC transit system this year, compared to 261 weapons — including nine guns — during the same period in 2023. The NYPD also seized 1,515 weapons in the subway system in 2023, including 1,470 cutting instruments and 45 illegal firearms, which the MTA says is a stark increase from 2023, when 947 total weapons were seized, including 912 cutting instruments and 35 guns.  

In February, Mayor Adams directed the NYPD to surge an additional 1,000 police officers into the subway system each day to keep help New Yorkers safe. Additionally, earlier this week, the NYPD announced “Operation Fare Play,” an initiative to ensure people pay their fare when entering the subway system by deploying 800 more police officers into the subway system to crack down on fare evasion. Through March 24, overall crime in the transit system was down nearly 16 percent for the month of March compared to March 2023, adding to February’s 15.4 percent month-over-month decrease in crime in the subway system. Since the start of 2024, overall arrests in the subway system are up nearly 56 percent compared to last year, including a 78 percent increase in fare evasion arrests and a 111 percent jump in gun arrests.  

“The brave men and women of the NYPD are averaging more than 4,500 gun arrests a year since the start of this administration and have taken more than 15,000 illegal firearms off New York City streets so far,” said NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban. “At the same time, overall crime in our transit system continues to trend downward, as our officers actively engage lawbreakers each day and night. To make these achievements meaningful for all New Yorkers, however, we must make safety a reality in every community we serve, on every train line we protect. We are doing that by remaining laser-focused on the relatively small number of people who commit violent crimes, by deploying our resources effectively, by maximizing the utility of new technology and by constantly evaluating our performance in a relentless effort to do even better.”   

“Riders have to feel safe when riding the subways and that requires innovation — new weapons detection technology, but also increased deployments of police, tougher handling of repeat offenders by the criminal justice system and expanded resources for mental health,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “Thankfully, Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul get it and continue to fight for the millions of people who rely on the transit system.”