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Cover Story

Smooth Sailing in the Big Apple

More than a year in planning, the nine-day OpSail 2000 drew together several dozen police agencies and thousands of officers into one cohesive, effective security force.

October 01, 2000  |  by Shelly Feuer Domash

In order to efficiently manage the numerous agencies involved, the Operations Division of the NYPD- which played the role of overseer- formed 19 subcommittees. These subcommittees met on a regular basis, followed by an overall committee meeting. All the law enforcement agencies were brought together at these monthly meetings in an effort to continually exchange information.

Meetings were designed to increase the agencies' intelligence gathering and disseminate information on a regular basis. It also ensured the agencies formalized one centralized security plan and eliminated any duplication of research or services.

Beginning in May this year, the meetings began bi-monthly and continued until the July 4th event.

The work group committees included presidential visit, intelligence, dignitary protection, site security, public safety, harbor security, motorcades, international arrival, transportation, hostage negotiations, aviation, law enforcement liaison, equipment, communications, credentials, legal and media.

"The establishing of working protocols and points of contact prior to the event worked out very well," said Lt. Kenneth Gabelman of the NYPD. "When they were questioned, everyone knew who to go to and how to get information. They knew who was handling what and who was the person that was making the decisions."

According to Inspector Raymond J. McDermott, the New York City Police Department relied on much of what they had learned from their role in the Goodwill games in 1998. They took those lessons and applied them to this event. "Communication is the most important thing. Communicate and move the resources to where they are needed," said McDermott. "We learned our lessons and we learned them very well. We take the lessons to our next event."

"It doesn't matter if they are big or small, we take them to the next event," he explained.

"It was a rewarding experience, working with different agencies," said Lt. Gabelman. "With the proper planning everyone knew who was coming where, when and how. It was all worked out before.

"There wasn't stepping on anyone's toes at every checkpoint or sensitive area where there were literally representatives of every state, federal and local agency. Everybody worked liked they had worked together forever."

Staffing Deployment Challenge

One of the problems that a police department must face when policing a special event is the staffing.

On July 4th almost three quarters of the New York City Police Department was deployed. The celebration extended through three boroughs and covered 11 nautical miles from the New York Harbor into the Hudson River. The viewing area covered approximately 100 land miles.

In addition to protecting the dignitaries, politicians and military personnel, the NYPD was also responsible for the thousands of private citizens who came to view the events.

"You can't ever take away from your staffing for the rest of the city. You have to build into your planning the level of policing that you need in order to guarantee the safety of the citizens and to ensure the event is policed adequately," Lt. Gabelman told POLICE. "We were able to do that," he said, adding, "It is policing for everybody.

The fireworks spectacular posed a different set of problems for the NYPD. Thirteen fireworks barges were placed at five sites around Manhattan Island. Over 100 miles of viewing sites had to be policed, many of which contained major highways and thoroughfares. In addition to crowd control, maintaining traffic control could become a major problem. Roads were closed before the fireworks began, as were footpaths and pedestrain walkways on two bridges.

Prior experiences showed that traffic congestion would become severe on certain roadways during the fireworks display due to motorists stopping in traffic for impromptu viewing. Numerous motorcycles and patrol cars were assigned to help alleviate these problems.

While a difficult task, it was not insurmountable, and after the fireworks were over, traffic and people were back on the move with any major problems.

Policing this type of event, according to Lt. Gabelman, could not be done without the pooling of assets from all the agencies involved. By designating who is responsible for various aspects and locations, the agencies avoided duplication of services and manpower.

"It's when the whistle blows, who goes," said Inspector McDermott.

Such things as loaner radios aided the smaller agencies, and all the agencies involved had a designated frequency on which they could communicate with each other.

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