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Security upped for tournament

All the preparations for thousands of NCAA tournament visitors this weekend means much more than extra hotel rooms and busy restaurants.

It also translates into increased security around HSBC Arena and on Metro Rail trains.

A task force led by the FBI conducted random searches in the University and Utica subway stations Friday, looking for explosives and increasing awareness among throngs of basketball fans visiting the city.

"It's a coordinated effort by various law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of the community during the basketball tournament," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

As a result, Hartmayer said Metro Rail commuters were met Friday morning by law enforcement officers checking for explosives -- part of a program of random searches in the subway that is expanded this weekend for the tournament. Law enforcement personnel from the FBI, transit police, Border Patrol, state police and federal air marshals operated Friday morning and will continue through the weekend.

Hartmayer noted task force officers conducted explosive tests on briefcases, purses and backpacks as they combed the two subway stations. Transit police counterterrorism and K-9 officers were among those who swabbed briefcases and purses for evidence of explosives, all in a matter of seconds.

He said Metro Rail patrons can refuse the request to hand over their belongings for testing, but they will then be unable to board a train.

"This will be happening not only today and this weekend but going forward," he added.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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