Citizens group hosts night to air concerns, asks to hear P.A. cops
HOBOKEN - With the terrorist alert raised to orange and the Republican National Convention just weeks away, Hoboken residents met with PATH representatives Tuesday night to discuss issues of safety and security.
The meeting was arranged by the Quality of Life Coalition, a local citizens group.
Helen Manogue, who heads the organization, said the group arranged for the meeting to help local PATH riders get information on what to do in an emergency.
The meeting also served to inform riders of changes in PATH and NJ Transit train services during the convention, which will run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.
"New Jersey people are just like New Yorkers," Manogue said. "They go about their business . They don't appear frightened or scared, but it's necessary to know what kinds of precautions are being taken to secure our safety."
Janet Larson, who serves as chairwoman of the Mayor's Council of Emergency Preparedness, helped arrange for Kevin Lejda, the assistant superintendent for the PATH Transportation Division, and Don Parente, the principal security coordinator, to meet with residents at St. Matthew's Trinity Lutheran Church.
In response to the recent threat alerts, Parente noted that Port Authority police have stepped up security with an increase in police patrols, K-9 units and the use of an extensive customer service security awareness program.
"There's no silver bullet," Parente said. "All of these things go together to make a secure system."
PATH representatives also informed riders they should expect to see an increased police presence on the PATH during the convention. During that time, NJ Transit Midtown Direct lines will be rerouted from Penn Station to Hoboken.
Priscilla Drobes, a Hoboken resident and PATH rider, said she attended the meeting to learn more about what it will be like commuting into the city during the week of the convention.
"I just recently started taking the PATH," Drobes said. "I have a job in the city and I'm worried about the convention. I work near the Empire State Building, which is near the convention, and I'm just worried about commuter traffic, if (the building) is going to be a target and also about the security level," she said.
The convention will be held at Madison Square Garden.
City Councilman Anthony Soares, who commutes each day to Manhattan for his job in advertising, said he is going to take off work that week to avoid the hassle.
"I think it's a public service if you can to stay home," he said. "It will make it easier for the police of New York and New Jersey to do their jobs."
Lejda said PATH is prepared to accommodate an additional 11,000 to 13,000 passengers during the convention and that trains during peak hours will run every five minutes from Hoboken to 33rd Street.
"We are going to operate as though it's a typical day," Lejda said.
Parente and Lejda also talked extensively about what passengers should do in the event of an emergency.
If a passenger becomes ill or leaves an unattended bag, Lejda encouraged residents to notify the conductor by pushing an alert button. There are four alert buttons per car, and passengers should use these buttons in lieu of pulling an emergency break, he said.
But most people who attended the meeting expressed more concerns about security and police surveillance.
Soares expressed his concerns about what he believes to be a lack of security at the Hoboken PATH station.
"Over at the PATH, I didn't see a single public safety officer in uniform," Soares said, recalling the day when the terrorist alert was raised to orange. "There is no visible added security in the PATH station."
Others who attended were more concerned about everyday crime than terrorist threats. Stephanie Reynolds, whose husband was assaulted in the Hoboken PATH station about a year and a half ago by two drunken men, stood up to show pictures of her husband's black eye and bruised face.
Reynolds said that nobody came to help her husband.
"(I came here tonight) because I wanted people to know that police presence has not been stepped up," Reynolds said. "If you're looking for assistance from the Port Authority police, you're not going to get it.
"I thought all kinds of safety should be covered at the meeting," she added. "It's more than just terror by foreigners. There's also terror by your neighbors."
Lejda and Parente disagreed.
"We're been on orange since 9/11," Parente said, citing an increased police presence, an increased closed circuit surveillance system and strengthened collaborative efforts between the Port Authority and police in various municipalities.
Lejda and Parente said they were unable to comment on specific security tactics that are in place or on how many police officers man the PATH stations.
"Last night, it seemed like they didn't want to answer a lot of questions," Soares said Wednesday. "I don't need to know where the emergency phones are, I need to know how they are preventing emergencies."
Lejda and Parente acknowledged that they could not provide a lot of detail regarding policing due to security concerns, but Manogue said the group hopes to invite somebody from the Port Authority police to a later meeting of the Quality of Life Coalition.
"I think that really the general opinion at the end of the meeting is we need to have someone come in from the PATH police. Everybody felt that was necessary," Manogue said.