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New Security Plan Could Endanger Statue of Liberty Visitors, NYPD Warns

 A plan to relocate screening checkpoints could make Statue of Liberty-bound ferries unsafe, the NYPD chief warned.
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BATTERY PARK — A plan to relocate security checkpoints could endanger visitors who flock to Lady Liberty when the statue reopens this summer, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Sen. Charles Schumer warned Monday.

The National Park Service has said that when the Statue of Liberty reopens July 4 after being shuttered since Hurricane Sandy, visitors will be screened on Ellis Island and again at the monument’s entrance, but not before boarding ferries to the islands, as had been the procedure since shortly after the September 11 attacks.

New York officials say that scrapping the checkpoints at Battery Park and New Jersey's Liberty State Park could enable would-be terrorists to smuggle explosives onto boats bound for the statue, which saw nearly 4 million visitors in 2011.

“Leaving the ferries with hundreds of people on board heading toward a national symbol without screening — that’s like a sitting duck in New York Harbor," said Schumer, who explained that Kelly had alerted him to the risk.

He compared the new system to screening airplane passengers after their flight had landed, rather than before they boarded.

"That makes no sense, that would be unimaginable," Schumer said. "But that, in effect, is what the Park Service is doing here with trips to the Statue of Liberty."

Under the previous security system, in place since December 2001, visitors underwent screening in tents at Battery Park and at Liberty Park before boarding ferries to Ellis Island and nearby Liberty Island.

Those security facilities were damaged during Hurricane Sandy, which also flooded about three-fourths of Liberty Island, but did not damage the monument. The statue and both islands have been closed to visitors since late October.

Locals have long criticized the lines and unsightly tents that were part of the screening system at Battery Park, and federal park officials have for years considered relocating the system to Ellis Island.

But when federal officials announced in March that they had decided to make the change, the NYPD quickly objected, raising concerns about attacks on the ferries or on Ellis Island outside the checkpoint.

"The NYPD and the National Park Service have a difference of opinion when it comes to ideas about how to protect visitors from a terrorist attack," Kelly said Monday, noting that the current screening system was established in response to the September 11 attacks.

Both Kelly and Schumer have sent letters to the NPS director, Jonathan Jarvis, urging him to reconsider the move. Kelly said Monday he had not received a response.

Kelly suggested that the long lines caused by screening at Battery Park could be alleviated by adopting a ticket reservation system like the one at the 9/11 Memorial.

The Park Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

In a May press release, the NPS said visitors will be screened at a preliminary checkpoint on Ellis Island and a second one outside the statue on Liberty Island using "modern screening and detection technology."

Additional security measures will be in place at Battery and Liberty State parks and on the ferries, the NPS added in the release. It did not provide details about those measures, other than to say they will "include a coordinated and integrated combination of law enforcement, security personnel, and technology.”

In March, Jarvis defended the plan in a statement.

"Safety is our highest priority for visitors to our national parks," he said.

Several tourists strolling through Battery Park on Memorial Day said they would feel more secure if passengers were screened in the park before boarding Statute of Liberty-bound ferries.

“I think it’s better to scan here. That way the boat is safe,” said Simone Ulsenheimer, 35, a tourist from Bavaria, Germany. “The other way, the terrorists would be in the tourist place.”

But Francoise Hachez, a visitor from Namur, Belgium, said that any change that could potentially streamline the screening process would be welcome.

“We don’t need to be screened — we are only tourists,” said Hachez, 24.

She complained that metal detectors and bag checks at many city attractions gobble up sightseeing time.

“It’s really annoying,” she said.

While Liberty Island and the statue are due to reopen July 4, no such date has been set for the Immigration Museum on Ellis Island.