The police department’s top transit cop has promised a “show of presence and force” through the city’s subway system during the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.
Just weeks after a terrorist detonated a pipe bomb in a subway tunnel not far from where the event will take place, NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Joseph Fox assured there will be a ramped up police presence throughout the entire subway system, with officers patrolling platforms, mezzanines and sweeping train cars while others check bags for explosives or rove with radiation-detecting devices.
“There will be significant deployment here New Year’s Eve — as there has been since that day of the bomb in the tunnel. It’s a combination of cops you see, cops you don’t see. A lot of what happens upstairs, we mirror down here,” said Fox, during an interview in the Times Square subway station Wednesday. “What you see on TV is the ball dropping with entertainment leading up to it, but what you see out here is weeks and months of planning with an intensity that’s like no other.”
There will be what Fox describes as a mix of uniformed and plainclothes officers from various units, including officers with bomb-sniffing dogs and members of the department’s Emergency Service Unit, who are equipped with assault rifles. On the mezzanine of the 42nd Street shuttle, police officers will patrol in electric three-wheeled scooters the transit bureau uses in the system to increase mobility and visibility underground, while other officers will man mobile ballistic shields.
Each weekend, nearly 235,000 commuters use the Times Square transit hub, which serves 11 train lines as well as the crosstown shuttle. That number is expected to climb Sunday, when more than 1 million people are anticipated to pack into midtown for the ball drop festivities. Fox said police will prioritize heavily-trafficked stations, but there will be a presence in stations in the outer boroughs as well.
As usual with such massive events, members of the NYPD’s Anti-Terrorism Unit will be stationed at tables just outside of turnstiles conducting random bag screenings. These officers are equipped with explosive trace detectors. With the tech, an officer swabs the handles of a commuter’s bag and tests the swab for explosives during a process that takes minutes. Officers say the tools allow for police to screen bags without opening them or seeing contents.
New York City has experienced three terror attacks since September of last year, including two that have been viewed as near misses: The Chelsea bombing last fall and the subway pipe bombing earlier this month.
Maria Haberfeld, a law professor with John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in city policing here, said the NYPD has been doing a “very good job” with their resources. But the reality of dense city living is that it’s impossible to stop a determined person in an age where everyday objects, such as cars, can be weaponized.
“I don’t think enough can be done to protect the passengers or the general public from a terror attack,” she said. “All it takes is one determined individual, so it’s very hard to prepare effectively. But it’s important for the peace of mind. Terrorism is a psychological weapon. So when people psychologically feel the presence of law enforcement it makes them feel better and that’s very important.”
To that end, Fox encouraged all in the city to stick with their plans to ring in the New Year.
“It’s important — what we saw with the bomb two weeks ago is that if you look in that tunnel hours later it was as if it never happened,” Fox said. “The fact that it did happen is regretful. We’re very luck there were no lives taken. But . . . that’s the resiliency of Americans, of New Yorkers.”