‘Adrenaline Rush’

Trump Looks to Cut NYPD Funds as Terrorists Aim for Subways

The attack in St. Petersburg on Monday was a harsh reminder that the stakes couldn’t be higher as the White House proposes cutting funds from the cops in New York.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism James Waters was notified of the bombing in the St. Petersburg subway at 8:07 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday.

That first report was accompanied by the possibility of a simultaneous or near-simultaneous attack such as terrorists have favored in the past. Waters considered the threat in terms of the municipality he has been protecting against terrorism for 14 years.

“The middle of rush hour in New York City,” he noted afterward to The Daily Beast.

He immediately called Deputy Chief Scott Shanley, head of the Critical Response Command, which is composed of more than 500 highly trained and heavily armed cops who are perpetually poised to be wherever they might be needed in minutes.

“You tracking on this?” Waters asked, by his account.

“Yes, we’re already tracking,” Shanley responded.

Waters and Shanley had both noted that the attack in Russia had been on a transit feeder hub.

“We’re already moving,” Shanley further reported.

“Okay, fine,” Waters said.

CRC cops were racing toward similar hubs in New York: Grand Central, Penn Station, Times Square, Union Square, Rockefeller Center.

“We want to get there as quickly as we can,” Waters later said.

The cops arrived at the hubs with vapor wake detection dogs capable of detecting a bomb on the move up to 10 minutes after it has left the vicinity and then tracking it down.

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“Displacement of the air off a bomb or a suicide vest,” Waters said.

Waters had total confidence in Shanley and the CRC second in command, Deputy Inspector Eugene McCarthy, both of whom had done this many times before and were continually training and refining without losing the essential intensity.

“There’s an adrenaline rush that runs through us; we have to get this right,” Waters said.

CRC cops also deployed to the Russian mission to the United Nations as a possible terrorist target.

“You just don’t know,” Waters said.

Waters remained ready to expect the unexpected. He considered the possibilities and the accompanying contingencies.

“All these things rapidly race through my mind each and every time this happens,” Waters said.

He confirmed to himself that everything that should be done had been done and that he and his cops were ready to do whatever else might suddenly need doing.

“You always have to stop and do the self-check,” Waters said. “No matter how smart you are, no matter how experienced you are, you have to do that check.”

In the meantime, the NYPD counterterrorism analysts had focused on the situation in Russia and were sure to pass on anything pertinent the instant they determined it. Images of the carnage in St. Petersburg served as a reminder of the importance of remaining vigilant.

The morning rush in New York passed without event. Waters joined Shanley and McCarthy in the afternoon at CRC headquarters on Randall’s Island across the East River from upper Manhattan. The three stood in the brightness of an April day as glorious as that September day back in 2001 when our longest war began.

At 2 p.m., Police Commissioner James O’Neill arrived for a pre-scheduled press conference to announce that the NYPD had achieved another record low in crime. Mayor Bill de Blasio was of course there to join in proclaiming the latest good news in the continuing tale of the safest big city in America.

Back in the bad old days, this facility had been the headquarters of the Street Crime Unit, which led the fight against gun violence in the city. Those who died in the effort included Police Officer Kevin Gillespie, shield 4503, whose locker has been preserved just as he left it on the night of March 14, 1996, when he was shot to death while stopping a stolen BMW in the Bronx.

“Killed in performance of duty,” says a plaque next to the locker, to which is affixed a cross fashioned from palm fronds, a symbol of that greatest love, those who sacrifice all for others.

Gillespie’s murder was one of 1,353 homicides that year. The continued efforts of his fellow cops reduced the annual carnage to 335 in 2016. A ceremony last year at what is now CRC headquarters marked the 20th anniversary of Gillespie’s death. His widow and two sons were in attendance. Former chief of department Louis Anemone spoke, recalling how Gillespie had signed a letter proposing a program to increase safety for plainclothes cops.

“See you in the street.”

The cops were still out in the street and the statistics that O’Neill announced on Monday showed that violent crime had continued to decline in the first quarter of this year, to an all-time low. O’Neill did not fail to mention Gillespie and to point out his locker and to say that his memory made the facility a sacred place for the NYPD. A Marine Corps sticker affixed to the outside of the locker attests to Gillespie’s military service during the Gulf War. Gillespie no doubt would have been among the first to join the NYPD’s fight against the new threat of terrorism had he survived to witness 9/11.

Waters has been in that fight without stop for year after year after year after year. He was standing off to the side as O’Neill spoke to the press of the importance of the CRC in protecting New York against attacks such as the one in St. Petersburg. O’Neill said that upon hearing of the bombing in Russia he had immediately contacted Waters about extra safeguards in the New York subways.

“I called up Jim and he said, ‘It’s already done,’” O’Neill reported.

Last month, O’Neill had warned that in cutting $190 million in homeland security funding to New York, the budget proposed by President Trump would rip away “the backbone of our entire counterterrorism apparatus.”

“This funding is absolutely critical,” O’Neill had added. “It is the cornerstone of preparedness and prevention against terrorist threats, and enables us to do what we can do to keep the city secure.”

Monday morning had demonstrated that counterterrorism funding in action. And that was only the most visible part of New York’s capability. The city also has a host of intelligence experts as well as cops who work deep undercover, some for years at a time.

“We always have to be prepared,” O’Neill said. “That’s the reality of life in New York City.”

He also said, “Not only do we have to keep people safe, we have to keep them feeling safe.”

O’Neill departed. Waters and Shanley and McCarthy continued with their unflagging efforts to counter terrorism amidst talk of budget cuts by a president who seems willing to put his hometown in jeopardy even as heavily armed cops protect his tower around the clock.

As the officers come and go from CRC headquarters in the days ahead, Gillespie’s locker will keep vigil there, made holy by duty and sacrifice, six feet of steel painted dark police blue that by truest measure stands taller than any tower in the city.

However much the budget is or is not cut, the locker will remain a shrine to the spirit that is New York’s untiring protector, be the threat a pistol on a Bronx street corner or news of a bombing on a St. Petersburg subway that comes in at 8:07 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on a sunny Monday.