The wind was firmly at NYPD's back over the Independence Day weekend.
What could have been a logistical nightmare—replete with miscues, bruised egos or worse—at the city's largest event on record, instead developed into a finely tuned, dynamic project that set sail for its duration without major incident.
The July 4th holiday in New York City posed a unique challenge for its police department. Unlike the thousands of cities across the nation that celebrated for one night with fireworks displays and large picnics. New York City stretched its hospitality over nine days hosting 15,000 sailors and military personnel assigned to 27 naval ships from 14 countries and another 120 tall sailing ships from 23 countries.
And, if providing the security for this diverse group was not enough of a task for NYPD, President Clinton made an official visit to the city where he boarded the battleship USS Hue City and proceeded to perform a formal military review of the naval fleet. He then boarded the aircraft carrier the USS John F. Kennedy and watched the official opening parade of OpSail 2000.
While the parade of sail began, 42 modern, vintage military and civilian aircraft performed a joint military fly over. Over 3,000 V.I.P.'s were transported out to the reviewing ships to watch the parade of ships.
With most of the events taking place in the confines of New York City, the NYPD played a major role in the planning and execution of the events security.
Prior to OpSail, New York City's largest event was New Years Eve, 2000, when approximately half of the department's 40,000 personnel were deployed. While not giving exact figures, police department officials reported that the number was increased for the July 4th OpSail and some unofficial reports put that number at an unprecedented 28,000 officers.
Officially, the event was designated by the Attorney General as a "National Security Event," which designated the U.S. Secret Service as the lead agency, the Federal bureau of Investigation as crisis management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as consequence management in the event of a major incident.
Since the celebration took place mostly in New York, it was the New York Police Department that took on the major portion of the planning and deployment.
The planning began with the Operations Division of the NYPD in June 1999. its success required the cooperation of 27 law enforcement agencies and numerous non-law enforcement agencies from both New York and New Jersey. Some of these law enforcement agencies included police departments from Amtrack, Bayonne, Bergen County, Hoboken, jersey City, Metropolitan transportations, Nassau County, New Jersey State, New Jersey Transit, New York State, New York State Environmental Conservation, Port Authority and Staten Island Rapid Transit.
Federal Agencies included were the F.B.I., the F.A.A., the U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. Customs, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Immigration and naturalization Service, united States Marine Corps, U.S. navy, U.S. Parks, and the U.S. Secret Service.
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.
The NYPD command center opened 24 hours a day, several days before the event and continued through the nine days of celebration. It was staffed by numerous agencies from within the city, as well as other participating law enforcement agencies. Fourteen cameras provided instant pictures from around the city. Remote cameras gave those in the command center the opportunity to view any area or incident instantaneously.
Other command centers were located in New Jersey, other parts of Manhattan and inside New York Harbor.
Striving For Communication
During their preparation, the NYPD printed a booklet for its officers that listed all the important locations and telephone numbers in the city. The booklets were handed out so officers could be informed of these locations.
"We have officers coming in from different boroughs, and if some asks them a question, they might not know the answer. This way they will have the information available," Lt. Gabelman told POLICE, adding, "it is important not only to keep the public informed but the cops too."
"An informed officer is out most valuable tool," added Inspector McDermott.
He said his advice for any department who has to deal with a similar situation would be, "no matter how big or small, agencies should exchange ideas. Bigger does not mean better."
"Everyone has something to learn from someone else. Go in open-minded. There is always something to learn and ways to improve"
He added, "Law enforcement agencies should always visit other agencies. Go out and exchange ideas, interface."
"Planning is important," said Lt. Gabelman. "People from around the world have called us. They never had crowd control. We gave them the information."
He also stressed the importance of prior planning. "You have to bring all the people on board and establish your lines of communication. Every agency would bring information and exchange it. Each agency has a vast knowledge and expertise.
"I learned a lot from other agencies; things that I didn't know before and hopefully they gained the same kind of knowledge. Everyone worked together and each agency hopefully walked away with a better understanding of what other agencies do. The prior planning eliminated the duplication of effort and increased the assets of all the agencies, no matter what size. There were also personal contacts and personal ties made that can never be measured. It was dealing with these agencies on a personal level."
And perhaps the measure of their real success was not only that there were no major incidents, but even the sailors that came off the ships, according to Lt. Gabelman, loved New York. "They said they thought it was a cold-hearted place and after they spent time here they told us it was incredible, that they never felt so welcomed as in any other place in the world."
The members of the NYPD were proud of their success in policing OpSail 2000, but they have little time to bask in it. This month there will be a major United Nations meeting taking place that also required months of careful planning. Officials, assured of its success, still know when that is over, another challenge will be around the corner.
They are also confident that with the expertise they have gathered they can handle any event that may come along.
Shelly Feuer Domash, POLICE's, East Coast correspondent, is a freelance writer based in New York and a longtime, regular contributor to the magazine. Her most recent article for us was June 2000's cover story on "Youth Gangs in America."