Officials express concern over handling of JFK Airport scare

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City and state officials expressed concerns Wednesday over the Port Authority's handling of a panic at JFK Airport apparently caused by a raucous celebration over Usain Bolt's Olympic victory in the 100-meter dash.

By the time police responded at 9:34 p.m. Sunday, the report had morphed into "shots fired," prompting one of the biggest airports in the world to shut down for more than three hours.

Port Authority Police spent days scouring security camera footage and still could find no images or audio that suggested anything like a gunshot.
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Investigative reporter Jim Hoffer has the details.

Each terminal has its own system, so Port Authority Police cannot make a simple announcement from their main dispatch center, once they knew it was a false alarm.

Even more troubling, their union says they can't even access hundreds of closed circuit cameras, in this case, at American's Terminal 8, without physically responding to that terminal's security room, costing time and manpower and potentially safety.

The union chief tells Eyewitness News that his cops, "Entered the terminal with no information as to the potential location of a shooter. Police officers were forced to enter blind."

Fortunately, because of a shift change, he said, there were more cops than usual, about 80.

The NYPD flooded the airport with hundreds more.

"As you know, we have invested a huge amount of money in the NYPD on our social media outreach capabilities for just this type of event," Bratton said.

But, the NYPD is not in charge at the airports, the Port Authority is, and it sent only one preliminary tweet 30 minutes in. After that, there was nothing.

Governor Andrew Cuomo called the incident "unfortunate" and said he wants a full review of what happened.

"The whole incident was unfortunate, but we can actually learn from these situations," he said. "We've faced emergencies that we've never seen before. And I believe very much in going back and studying what happened, seeing what we can learn from it."

In addition to a review by state officials, Cuomo is planning to bring in other law enforcement agencies -- like the New York State Police and Homeland Security -- to tell his administration how they think the situation should have been handled.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bratton added their voices of concern over the response, with the mayor adding that NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller is now working with the Port Authority.

"We all have to do better at the airports, there's no question about it," de Blasio said. "And we have to make sure that we inform the public better in any situation like this."
Bratton noted the Port Authority was the lead agency and that the NYPD is there "to support them and respond to their guidance. That was in effect Sunday evening." But he was pleased with the NYPD's mobilization.

"What worked was in a very short period of time, we had 300 to 400 police officers with the right equipment at that location," he said. "So if there had been an actual event or multiple events, which we train for, at multiple terminals, we would have had resources there."

He also noted ShotSpotter's increasing ability to delineate between gunshots and other noises.

There is no shotspotter in the airports, which Bratton said could have potentially been beneficial.

"The response was satisfactory from our perspective, but the confusion was around the fact that it was fortunately a false alarm," he said. "That, we can learn from."

The Port Authority issued the following statement:

"Executive Director Pat Foye requested an after-action review on Monday morning. The team will work with NYPD, airlines and customers to conduct a top-to-bottom review. We also look forward to working with Gov. Cuomo's multi-agency team on reviewing the incident and improving communications going forward. It's our belief that the response to events by the PAPD and the New York City Police Department was timely and tactically sound, involving an estimated 250 PAPD and NYPD officers. We train regularly with our law enforcement partners, including NYPD, on emergency response strategies and tactics. Communications to passengers and airport employees during Sunday's incident presented unique challenges, but was inadequate. We are committed to improving our communications capability to provide appropriate and accurate guidance in these types of fast-changing situations without endangering the public." null
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