New York receives up to $190 million in federal funds each year to help protect the city from the constant threat of terrorism. It is money well spent.
The city, since the devastating attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been the target of 21 terror plots. These plots have included plans to attack New York City’s subways with backpack bombs, a live truck bomb that was discovered in Times Square, plans to place bombs in the joyful crowds watching the July 4th fireworks in the East River, an ISIS plot to behead a woman in Manhattan and to capture it on video.
Last year two bombs were placed in Chelsea. One detonated, injuring 32 people and a second bomb was removed safely and dismantled by the NYPD’s Bomb Squad.
The federal Homeland Security funds buy us a lot. The Total Containment Vessel (TCV), the rolling vault that allowed the bomb squad to remove the live Chelsea bomb? Yes, paid for with Homeland Security Grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
The bomb robot that allowed the NYPD bomb technicians to deal with that device from far away, thus reducing risk to our detectives lives? Paid for with DHS grant money. The “bomb suit” — protective gear worn by the bomb tech who had to approach the device? Paid for by DHS money. The Vapor Wake Dogs that patrol large events looking for the next pair of “Boston Marathon Bombers” moving through a crowd with explosives in backpacks, the “active shooter” training that hones the tactical skills of thousands of officers who might face a New York version of a Paris attack by machine-gun-wielding terrorists in a crowded concert hall, the network of cameras our department uses to cover critical locations in the Financial District and Midtown, the overtime money for Counterterrorism Officers (CTOs) who are deployed with special training to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Sunday’s NYC Half Marathon? All paid for with DHS grant funding.
So one might ask, why should the federal government have to support all this? There is more than one reason and each is compelling.
First, counterterrorism is not, and has never been a core responsibility of municipal police. The threat comes from overseas. It is a surrogate type of warfare and wars are usually fought and paid for by the federal government. The simple fact is, in New York City, the feds can’t fight this war, or to be specific, prevent international terrorism without us. They don’t have the people, or the contacts on the ground that a police department has.
The second thing is that DHS money only pays for a small part of all this. In any police department, 85% of the budget typically goes to personnel costs. With 1,500 NYPD officers devoted full-time to counter terrorism that amounts to about $450 million a year, not counting special weapons and vehicles. That means that even at the current levels, the federal government only carries a fifth of the total cost to New York’s taxpayers.
One irony is that discussions about possible cuts to New York’s Homeland Security Grant Program funding comes as the city taxpayers are shelling out $100,000 a day when President Trump is not here to protect his building and his family. The city also pays $300,000 a day when Trump is in New York. About $24 million was spent during the transition period when Trump was here every day. So far, we have received only $7 million back. If that is a signal, it is a bad one for New Yorkers.
To be clear, no one in Washington has said that they will cut New York’s Homeland Security grant funding. That said, when the White House and the Office of Management and Budget push out a document that proposes $667 million in cuts to FEMA, state and local grant programs – including money the Homeland Security Grant Program — it is unlikely that those cuts will not be felt across the board by cities that need that money to do the kind of counterterrorism work the federal government can’t do alone.
And of those cities, New York remains the number one target in the nation.
Written by Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill