Schumer: Probe response to false gunfire report at JFK Airport

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday criticized law enforcement’s response to last week’s false-alarm about gunfire at Kennedy Airport that sent hundreds diving for cover in two terminals — a scenario he said revealed lapses in security preparedness.

“It was not just a scare. It was a panic that sent thousands of people fearing for their lives and the disorganization that was created did not quell the people’s concern,” Schumer said. “There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered.”

In a news conference at his Manhattan office, Schumer echoed calls for a probe of the incident, outlining 10 questions that should be part of a Department of Homeland Security “audit” on how various law enforcement agencies at Kennedy Airport coordinated their response to the false report of gunfire. The audit also should help establish a coordinated plan for future emergencies such as a terrorist attack, he said. 

Schumer (D-N.Y.) also said the investigation should result into a uniform plan where all law enforcement officers are sharing “immediately” surveillance video to assess emergencies. 

President Barack Obama said he plans to investigate how authorities handled the incident, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has also asked for an interdepartmental investigation to track down what happened at Kennedy’s Terminals 8 and 1 that had hundreds of people spilling out onto the tarmac where they hunkered behind airplanes.

In all of his experience as an elected official, Schumer said: “I never experienced anything quite like this where there was a massive panic that did not have to occur. No one seemed to be in control.”

Schumer said the Department of Homeland Security should lead the investigation and evaluate all emergency response efforts by the Port Authority , Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Patrol and the hundreds of private security officers hired by the airline companies. He said training of security personnel also needs to be examined for effectiveness.

The Port Authority “is working with our federal, state and city law enforcement partners on a top-to-bottom review of the JFK incident,” according to spokesman Scott Ladd. The agency initiated its own review immediately afterward, the statement added.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also has said he plans to look closely at the incident and the response to it.

Airport passengers in media reports described TSA officers leaving their posts and yelling that gunshots were fired. Schumer said law enforcement at the scene did little to calm the explosive situation. “Why did this human stampede tear its way into another terminal and why were people not directed in a calm way?”

Schumer also said that there were “blind spots” where surveillance cameras should have been installed.

“We can learn from these mistakes and not let it happen again,” said Schumer, who envisioned an investigation such as one after Sept. 11 where radio communications were improved between the FDNY and the NYPD, including a new cooperative relationship between FBI and local police.