Amid the Surge: Security On Display

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One major aspect of post-September 11 life in New York is the increased police presence in many areas.

Photo by: Aaron McElroy

One major aspect of post-September 11 life in New York is the increased police presence in many areas.

One of the hallmarks of post-September 11 New York City is the increased physical presence of police on the city’s streets. Body-armor-wearing and machine-gun-toting officers, their tactical truck idling, maintain a constant watch outside the New York Stock Exchange. An officer with a high-powered rifle is usually in front of City Hall. A police car, lights spinning, sits at the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge. Underground, police officers man surveillance booths on the subway platforms at either end of East River tunnels. An island of police officers and vehicles is often on watch in Times Square.

“Jesus Christ,” says Anthony Bouza, a former New York police commander who’s written on police intelligence, about a recent visit from his current home in Minneapolis, where he was police chief for nine years. “I’ve never seen so many fuckin’ cops.” This is a good thing, says Richard Aborn, an attorney and president of the Citizens Crime Commission, an independent organization that promotes crime reduction. “I think it contributes to the sense and a reality of public safety. The proof of that is that there has not been a large protest in the city against that police presence,” he says. “I think New Yorkers understand that New York is a terrorist target and we have to live with that reality and take all other measures to do everything we can to prevent an attack from ever happening again.”

To that end, Police Commissioner Kelly has overseen a raft of programs with names like Atlas, Hercules, TOMS, Sampson, Nexus and Shield to defend a city that is always on orange, or (high) alert. Atlas, for one, refers to the overall set of increased security measures. Hercules teams are the heavily armed Emergency Service Unit officers (and sometimes dogs) who are seen at major landmarks under Operation Sampson. Transit Order Maintenance Sweeps, or TOMS, involve “officers stopping, boarding and inspecting subway trains” as well as conducting subway bag searches. Operations Nexus and Shield are mechanisms for the NYPD to share information with private industry. A threat in 2004, for example, led the NYPD to warn commercial property owners about “visitors to your facility who claim to be lost or appear disoriented” and “maintenance work that isn’t announced or scheduled in advance.”

Last summer, Shield provided a briefing to business owners on the alleged plot by a “self-radicalized” Queens man to blow up fuel facilities at JFK Airport. (Shield is not open to just any business, though; City Limits was not allowed to join). The NYPD increased its hours of counterterrorism training for civilians fourfold between the first four months of fiscal 2007 and the same period of fiscal 2008. The International Liaison Program, funded in part by the private Police foundation at a cost of $500,000 a year, involves the deployment of NYPD intelligence officers in 10 international cities: Tel Aviv, London, Amman, Singapore, Santo Domingo, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Lyon and Madrid. The Police foundation says it has also donated $1.2 million to an NYPD Counter-Terrorist Operations Center. Overall, the NYPD intelligence operation—headed by 35-year CIA veteran David Cohen—has a staff of 360 officers. The department says it devotes 1,000 officers to counterterrorism efforts.

Some aspects of the NYPD’s program are invisible: the informants and undercovers who are working among particular communities in the city. One part is very, very visible—and quite audible too. This is the so-called CRV (Critical Response Vehicle) Surge, which the NYPD describes as “uniformed officers from each of the city’s 76 precincts in marked vehicles meeting at strategic locations in a massive show of force for deployment around the city at bridges, transportation facilities, and other highly critical and sensitive locations.” If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on when a whole line of police cars musters on a city street, turns on lights and sirens and drives somewhere else, it’s a CRV surge.

It’s widely acknowledged that New York does more than any American city, and perhaps any city in the world, to deter terrorism. And deterring terrorism has other benefits too, say police officials. In a 2004 interview, Kelly told WNBC’s Gabe Pressman, “I think there are some benefits to some of our counterterrorism programs in fighting crime, reducing crime. We have the ability to mobilize officers more quickly now than ever before.…They have a crime deterrent effect as well.” The intense police presence comes with a cost, however—and not just the 265 percent increase in what the NYPD spent on gasoline between fiscal 2003 and 2008, or the $334 million spent on counterterrorism this year, according to IBO. There’s the impact of tactics like CRV surges on the public psyche. Some people might be comforted by the sight and sound of dozens of police cars racing past them in the middle of the day. But for others, including the tourists who frequent the city’s most heavily policed areas, the body armor and flashing lights are reminders that there is something to be afraid of. “Perhaps Mr. Kelly’s plan is that if he creates enough of these earshattering, traffic-clogging events, the terrorists will move to someplace like Portland, Ore., for quality of life,” wrote Brooklyn resident Michael C. Doyle in a February letter to The New York Times.

What’s more, personnel decisions are zero-sum, especially in a police department having trouble recruiting. As one person commented on a web bulletin board for NYPD “MOS,” or members of the service, “Does the 1,000 [counterterrorism officers] include the 200 MOS assigned to CRV every day who fight terrorism by driving around Midtown like maniacs and screwing up traffic while precincts have two cars on patrol?” Some critics of the NYPD note that for all its security efforts, the department was unable to catch the hooded bicyclist who was caught on camera planting a bomb in Times Square earlier this year.