The NYPD’s World Class Counterterror Capabilities
On September 17, 2016, New Yorkers were forcefully reminded of the ever-looming threat of a terror attack when a makeshift bomb, planted by a lone-wolf, exploded in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and another unexploded device was found just blocks away. Police Commissioner James O’Neill and the NYPD, with the aid of federal, state, and local partners, led a collaborative response that secured the Chelsea neighborhood and apprehended the suspect within 40 hours.
This unsuccessful attempt stirred memories for most New Yorkers, occurring as it did just a week after the fifteenth anniversary of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When that attack occurred, the NYPD pledged to do everything in its power to ensure that the city would never experience such an attack again. In the years since, the Department has forged an unprecedented municipal counterterror capacity, including a Counterterrorism Bureau, a revitalized Intelligence Bureau, and increased participation with the FBI on the Joint-Terrorism Task Force.
Overseas Officers Provide On-the-scene Intelligence
With the help of the Police Foundation, the NYPD Intelligence Bureau has stationed officers overseas in 13 different locations, including London, Paris, Tel Aviv, and Abu Dhabi, to work closely with local law enforcement, gather detailed intelligence, and help shape counterterrorism strategies here at home. The international threat picture has changed, from Al Qaeda’s model of massively destructive attacks directly controlled from afar to the ISIS model of inspired, enabled, or directed attacks of lesser intensity, but greater frequency. Our overseas officers have been immensely valuable in assessing this new challenge. After attacks in locations like Mumbai, Paris, and Brussels, they have evaluated the terrorists’ methods and how they might apply to New York City. Additionally, the NYPD has studied the domestic attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando.
One conclusion drawn from the Department’s ongoing research was the need for a swifter and more potent response capability in the event of an attack.
“The international attacks have had some alarming characteristics, including the clear intention to kill as many people as possible and a willingness to engage responding police officers with heavy weapons and military-style tactics,” said John Miller, the Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
“The prudent course was to develop a response capability in our city that could meet such attacks swiftly and with overwhelming force. We can now bring hundreds of well-trained, well-armed officers to scenes anywhere in the city to neutralize the threat and minimize the damage.”
Three Layers of Response
The tip of the response spear has always been the 450 officers of the Emergency Service Unit (ESU); the most highly trained police officers in the world, prepared for any and all scenarios. These elite officers must have at least five years on the job before applying to the team, and, upon acceptance, are trained rigorously for eight months—which is longer than the initial Police Academy training.
Now, the NYPD’s counterterror response has been greatly expanded by the Critical Response Command (CRC) in the Counterterrorism Bureau, a team of 530 dedicated counterterrorism officers at-the-ready, with a full range of counterterror skills and training. CRC officers are hand-selected and trained in counterterrorism tactics, such as active shooter protocols, special weapons and long guns, explosive trace detection, radiological and nuclear awareness, biological and chemical threat consciousness, and the skills to detect an impending attack by reading the faces and body language of potential attackers. They provide a visible presence at iconic structures and other high-profile locations and events throughout the city, serving as an active deterrent at likely terrorist targets and a ready resource should an attack come.
The counterterrorism response is further buttressed by the Strategic Response Group (SRG), a new citywide command comprising 640 officers, trained in disorder-control and active-shooter situations. SRG commands are strategically placed in each of the five geographic boroughs, making any mobilization a quick and efficient operation. SRG’s primary missions are disorder control and crime suppression in the precincts, but its teams are always available to provide another layer of counterterror response in event of an attack.
The Bomb Squad and the Chelsea Bombing
The NYPD also boasts officers who run into literally explosive situations. The Counterterrorism Bureau’s Bomb Squad disabled the improvised explosive device found in Times Square in 2010 and dealt courageously with the second device found after the 2016 explosion in Chelsea. The squad has more than three-dozen expert members; 16 explosive-detection canines; Andros 6A, 6B, and Wolverine robots; and three total-containment vessels to transport dangerous explosives.
“In the immediate aftermath of the Chelsea bombing, Counterterrorism Bureau personnel effectively responded to the blast site through Critical Response Command deployments, secondary-device sweeps conducted by the Bomb Squad, and coordinated efforts with our partner agencies at the Joint-Terrorism Task Force,” said James Waters, Chief of the Counterterrorism Bureau.
“Additional casualties were likely avoided when Bomb Squad personnel transported a second unexploded device in a total containment vessel to the police range at Rodman’s Neck, where the pressure-cooker IED was rendered safe. Six days after the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I was filled with a sense of resolve and confidence from the knowledge that no other organization in the world is better-equipped to respond to the ever-evolving threat of terrorism.”
In the event of any attack, highly trained, well-equipped units—ESU, CRC, SRG, and the bomb squad—will be swiftly deployed. Yet, the first on scene at almost any cataclysmic event, will likely be a pair of police officers on patrol, another critical part of the NYPD’s counterterror capability; and those officers will undoubtedly, and unwaveringly, rush in to do what they do best: protect the people of this city.