Written by Larry Higgs @APPLarry
A $5.8 million federally funded program allowing NJ Transit commuters to “Text Against Terror” has brought 307 tips to the agency since its startup in June 2011 — ranging from some warranting further investigation to travelers testing the system.
Of those 307 text messages, 71 have “referred to something regarding homeland security,” said Christopher Trucillo, chief of NJ 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 said.
The majority of subjects of those 71 texts were investigated and eliminated as a cause for concern, he said.
However, “in a rare instance, we need to follow them up and refer them to the (state) Joint Terrorism Task Force,” Trucillo said.
That task force consists of the State Police, the NJ Transit and Port Authority police, the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and other agencies.
“We can’t discuss those things,” he said, when asked to elaborate on the nature of some of the text messages investigated by the task force. “There have been things investigated by the joint task force.”
The “Text Against Terror” program was funded in fiscal year 2011 with a $5.775 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security public awareness grant, which paid for advertising time on radio and television, printing wallet cards, fliers and bus and train ads and reserving the NJTPD domain for text messages.
Recurring costs to reserve the NJTPD domain and for unlimited texting capability are $13,400, Trucillo said. The commercials were produced by NJ Transit’s marketing department, he added.
“Text Against Terror” radio and television ads have also been played on New York stations, which typically command some of the highest advertising rates in the country.
In the weeks preceding the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, NJ Transit ramped up the ad campaign, with “Text Against Terror” ads airing 4,023 times on radio and television between Aug. 27 and Sept.8.
Trucillo, who has been to Israel to study counterterrorism techniques, said terrorists look to strike during significant anniversaries — as evidenced by the attack on the American embassy in Libya this Sept. 11.
“We’re not doing it to waste valuable tax dollars or that we don’t have anything else to do. We live in a dangerous world and in an area where two significant terrorist events happened (in 1993 and 2001),” said Trucillo, who was a Port Authority police captain on the day of the 2001 attacks. “We ask people to understand that we do it with their best interests in mind and to make the public aware of counter terrorism efforts, so we can keep mass transit safe.”
Mass transit has been a target for terrorists. In 2004, terrorists set off 10 backpack bombs on the commuter rail system in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800. A photo of a bombed Spanish commuter train is prominently featured in NJ Transit’s counter terrorism advertisements.