National News

In Wake of Attacks, Tighter Security for Times Square on New Year’s Eve

Posted December 28, 2017 5:40 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — With a gunman raining bullets down on a crowd of Las Vegas concertgoers in October, police officers who rushed into the hotel where he was holed up struggled at first to figure out what floor he was on.

That quandary — and the many other difficulties of disarming a high-rise sniper — have informed how the New York Police Department is preparing for hundreds of thousands of people to gather in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

The event has long drawn a heavy security presence. But this year the police said they would send rooftop observation teams and countersnipers into more buildings. Officers will be patrolling hotels in the days leading up to the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

And for the first time, the Police Department is planning to attach reflective markers to the outside of buildings at certain intervals so that in the event of an attack, officers can quickly figure out what floor a gunman is on.

“There are no direct credible threats to New York City, to Times Square specifically, or to any of our New Year’s Eve events generally,” James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner, said at a news conference Thursday. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, you’ll see a stronger police presence out there than we’ve seen even in recent years.”

O’Neill attributed the stepped-up security in part to recent terrorist attacks in New York City, including the attempted suicide bombing in a subway corridor under Times Square on Dec. 11.

In response, the Police Department prepared a tactical bulletin and training video for officers on how to respond to a suicide attack.

James Waters, the chief of counterterrorism for the New York City police, said the department would distribute the bulletin to officers on Friday. He said it covered how to get bystanders out of the way if the police suspect someone has a suicide bomb, how to take a would-be bomber to the ground and, in the aftermath of an attack, how to approach an explosive device and help victims. As a last resort, he said, officers were trained to use deadly force to stop a suicide attack.

“We owe it to the cops to give them some kind of guidelines in what they can do or what they should do,” Waters said Thursday.

As the Police Department did before the Thanksgiving Day parade, officials are also sending out ‘Vapor Wake’ dogs, Labrador retrievers that can pick up whiffs of explosive particles in the warm air that trails behind people as they walk.

Those dogs will be among several layers of security that people will pass through twice, first at an outer access point and again when they enter the pens where they can watch the ball drop. Officers will also be checking people with metal detector wands and radiation detection devices, the police said.

The police will use sand trucks and blocker vehicles to stop car or truck attacks, like the one that killed eight people on a Hudson River bike path on Halloween.

In past years, the department deployed around 5,000 officers for New Year’s Eve-related security. This year, police officials said the number would be higher.

The markers on the sides of buildings were intended to keep police officers from having to count floors in the dark after an attack, and instead allow them to quickly figure out how far up a gunman is, police officials said.

The department has also added security and screening procedures at hotels. A hotel unit in the Intelligence Bureau has long trained hotel workers, from housekeepers to security directors, in how to recognize suspicious behavior.

After the shooting in Las Vegas, in which a gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino killed more than 50 people and wounded hundreds of others, the hotel unit added training on how to distinguish a gun case from other luggage like a golf bag, John J. Miller, the deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said in October.

Last year, O’Neill said about 2 million people celebrated New Year’s Eve around Times Square. He said forecasts this year were for temperatures from 12-15 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 to minus 11 degrees Celsius), and with people having to line up many hours before midnight to get in, city officials urged them to dress warmly.