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NYPD won't let guard down despite ISIS losses overseas, O’Neill says

Police commissioner cites three Manhattan terror attacks since 2016 as evidence that city must stay vigilant despite ISIS defeats.

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said ISIS defeats overseas

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said ISIS defeats overseas are no reason for the police department to scale back its counter-terrorism efforts. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Despite significant losses by ISIS on overseas battlefields, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said he will maintain the department’s already substantial counter-terrorism effort.

“We have had three terrorist attacks in the last sixteen months,” O’Neill said in a Monday interview, referring to the 2016 Chelsea bombing, the West Side Halloween attack last year that killed eight, and the December suicide-bombing attempt in a subway passageway beneath the Port Authority. “This is an issue we are going to have to deal with for quite some time.”

The commissioner is expected to discuss terrorism Wednesday morning when he gives his State of The NYPD address at a breakfast meeting hosted by the nonprofit New York City Police Foundation. He will also review the progress made in 2017 when the city recorded 292 homicides, the fewest since World War II.

O’Neill said Monday that while the federal government has shifted attention from terrorism to other foreign policy issues and potential military threats from Russia and China, New York City doesn’t have the same luxury.

“The threat is real,” O’Neill said of terrorism.

A day after O’Neill took over as commissioner from William Bratton in September 2016, Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi struck — the first such successful terror attack since Sept. 11, 2001. More than 30 were injured. Rahimi was convicted last October of setting the bombs and is awaiting sentencing.

O’Neill’s baptism-by-fire has stuck with him ever since, he said, particularly after two more attacks hit the city in the past three months.

“We are constantly monitoring the threat stream each and every day, and every day, each and every threat is investigated and quite frankly we need all eight and half million people in this city to pay attention to what is going on around them,” O’Neill said. “We still have to maintain the critical response command, our counter-terrorism assets, still maintain intelligence.”

O’Neill is also expected to flesh out his plans for the burgeoning neighborhood policing strategy at the Wednesday meeting in Manhattan. The commissioner and his commanders believe the vaunted crime-fighting program will further drive crime down in the five boroughs.

So far, 56 of 77 precincts have taken part in the program and O’Neill said he expects it will spread throughout the city and the public housing areas by the end of the year. He said Central Park will likely be excluded from the program. Police officials said the park is not a true neighborhood and has a more transient population adequately covered by regular precinct officers.

O’Neill said he is also grappling with how to use the neighborhood policing approach in city subways. Key components of the program are Neighborhood Coordination Officers — known as NCOs — officers who work exclusively on building relationships with residents as a way of fighting crime. There are currently two NCOs in each precinct sector and O’Neill said he is thinking about beefing up that number in some areas to account for precinct geography and workloads.

“We are rethinking because some sectors are bigger than others,” said O’Neill.

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