In the wake of the Paris attacks, expect extra security at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. There will be more uniformed cops than usual, who are more likely to keep their eyes on the crowds than to joke with them. And then there are all the things that attendees probably won’t see: The snipers, the radiation detectors, the helicopters equipped with sensors, and the monitoring centers keeping tabs on the parade on CCTV.
For the first time, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is deploying approximately 500 counterterrorism police to the parade from two new units–the Critical Response Command (CRC) and the Strategic Response Group (SRG)–both of which are designed to be a rapid-reaction force in case of terrorist attack.
Law enforcement agencies working the parade have to monitor more than a million bystanders stretched across central Manhattan for potential threats while also making sure those bystanders aren’t too panicked by the experience to not return to the city as happy (and big-spending) tourists.
Ray Kelly, New York’s former police commissioner and a current vice chairman at K2 Intelligence, a corporate investigation consultancy, told Fast Company that “No other city has done more than New York City to protect itself. The city has remained in a heightened state of readiness since 9/11, (and) with the advancements and investments in security and intelligence technology, there are protective measures that will be in place, but not seen. There will be an increased number of private and public sector cameras in key locations and radiation, biological, and chemical detection equipment. Undercover officers will be in the crowds, listening for conversations of a suspicious nature or anything out of the ordinary.”
In an email, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of Public Information did not respond to specific queries about the department’s presence at the parade but noted that “This year there will be a larger visible presence” at the parade that will include both the CRC and SRG. There are no credible threats against New York City, added the official.
At a press conference, NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill told local news station WABC that security “will include extra uniform police officers, traffic agents plus additional mobile cameras, helicopters, K-9 (and) mounted units.”
Police Commissioner William Bratton also urged the public to be patient with the stepped-up police presence at the parade, adding “Just the very large crowds, work with us. Work with us on the crowd management and crowd control. And if there is something that they see makes them feel uncomfortable, certainly make us aware of it.”
New York State’s government is getting in on the act, too. The State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services released an app shortly before Thanksgiving called See Something, Send Something, which asks users to photograph evidence of what they call “suspicious activity.” The photograph and an accompanying report are then sent to the New York State Intelligence Center–a “fusion center,” where different law enforcement agencies collaborate on anti-terrorism efforts. The NYPD also released a mobile app of its own in 2013.
Visitors are sure to notice all the police helicopters patrolling the skies of Manhattan and Brooklyn. These choppers include equipment used for large-scale events such as the Pope’s visit this summer that includes high-resolution cameras capable of reading license plates of cars and trucks down in the streets.
In New York, residents were alarmed by a recent Islamic State propaganda video that included images of the city and of Times Square. The video shows a suicide bomber preparing for an attack interspersed with pictures of Times Square. But the NYPD insists that there is no specific threat against the city.
The NYPD has long had an intelligence unit that works overseas, with a major focus on terrorist threats to the city. In addition, they also operate Special Forces-style rapid response units called Hercules Units that often do surprise deployments around the city.
To provide security for the parade and Wednesday night’s setting up of character floats, the police department is believed to be using radiation detectors nestled inside vehicles that are intended to be mobile dirty bomb detectors, helicopters fitted with an array of sensors, and more conventional tools as well.
Update: This article has been updated to include additional comment by Ray Kelly.