In the wake of Tuesday’s attacks at Brussels international airport and the Maelbeek metro station, New York City officials have ramped up security.
Increased police presence was evident Tuesday morning near Rockefeller Center and other heavily trafficked areas in Manhattan. While city officials have been vocal about safeguarding residents and tourists against potential threats, the explosions in Belgium have ratcheted up those concerns.
The New York City Police Department’s deputy commissioner of public information Stephen P. Davis said, “The New York City Police Department is closely monitoring the situation in Belgium and is in close contact with our international partners and with the FBI. Until we learn more, the department has deployed additional counterterrorism resources across the city including: the Counterterrorism Response Command (CRC), the Strategic Response Group (SRG), and Hercules Teams.”
The CRC was set up last year, “in light of emerging threat patterns,” and more specifically, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in January 2015, according to an NYPD report. They are trained to provide an immediate and effective response to an active shooter and other terrorist attacks in the city. The SRG was also established last year to specialize in quick response to deal with terrorist attacks, demonstrations and emergencies. They are reportedly equipped and trained in ways that patrol officers are not. Hercules teams refer to specially trained, heavily armed police units that travel to different locations as needed.
“These teams have been deployed to crowded areas and transit locations around the city out of an abundance of caution to provide police presence and public reassurance as we closely follow the developing situation overseas.” Davis said.
“At this time, there is no known indication that the attack has any nexus to New York City. We will continue to follow the situation in Belgium closely with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI and adjust the department’s deployments accordingly.” he said.
Davis also noted, “These attacks come at a time when the federal government has proposed cutting terrorism funding to New York City by roughly $90 million dollars. Any cut in terrorism funding to New York — to what is widely recognized as the nation’s top terror target — would be irresponsible.”
The heightened security comes at a time when New York City is on track to welcome a record-breaking 59.7 million visitors in 2016, a sizable jump compared with last year’s rate of 58.3 million. Domestic travelers are expected to account for 47 million visitors of the 2016 figures, with international visitors comprising the anticipated 12.7 million remaining numbers, according to NYC & Company, the agency overseeing the city’s tourism.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also spoke out to try to relay calm. “NYPD is on increased alert across our city. While we take this threat seriously, we will not live in fear. Our lives will continue today in honor of those lost to terrorism. Securing New York City is our show of solidarity with the people of Brussels and the victims of terrorism worldwide.”
Alicia Salzbach, visual manager of the Michael Kors store on Fifth Avenue, noted that armed security is routine in the Rockefeller Center subway station. Referring to the threat of terrorism, she said, “New York City sees that all the time — it’s always in the news. But we get up, we get on the subway, go to work and we trust that we’re protected.”
Several shoppers along Fifth Avenue Tuesday said they planned to carry on with their plans. Natalie Tamas, a purchasing buyer visiting from Limoges, France, said, “We’re going shopping to buy some little things before we leave.”
Security guards and NYPD officers in front of NBC and throughout Rockefeller Center declined to comment, though one noted that the area’s surveillance is always happening. A Jo Malone associate near the entrance to Saks Fifth Avenue who declined to be identified, said, “You have to be more alert, definitely. There’s nothing you can do about it. This is New York City.”
En route to Saks Fifth Avenue and then Macy’s later in the day, Glasgow residents Caitlin Hunter and Adam McAvoy said they were impressed with New York’s security measures before the attack in Belgium. Hunter, a travel tour operator, said, “I feel safer walking about here than I would walking about in Glasgow, because of the police presence. And the airport security at Newark is a lot tighter.”
McAvoy, an architect said, “I feel that New York is probably one of the most conscious cities in the world. Nothing, I don’t think, has changed really [in that regard.]”
Shopping in Topshop’s midtown location, Kjersti Matessen, a teacher from Oslo, said she planned to spend the day shopping in other Fifth Avenue stores like Sunglass Hut, though she would walk to all of them. “I wasn’t that keen on riding the subway. But I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of really.” Matsen said.
In from Spain, Antonio Veda and his niece Elena planned to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap, Microsoft and Macy’s, and visit the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “It can happen anywhere,” he said.
A woman from London, who declined to give her name, said, “You’re always looking over your shoulder a bit more.”
Her companion, who also asked not to be identified said, “It’s all very new. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily affected my day-to-day feelings. We’ve had these sort of things around for many years, haven’t we? These thoughts of potential issues.”
Having already made some purchases at the Ralph Lauren store, the pair planned to shop at the stores in Grand Central Station. He said, “We’re going go to The Plaza later for cocktails at the Palm Court, which will be nice.”
Another couple in New York for the first time from Madison, Wis., Xianrun Qu and Cary Yuan, had Saks Fifth Avenue, NordstromRack and Topshop on their list of destinations. Qu said, “We are only here for the day, but nothing really disturbs me. It looks good. I hear the subway is not so safe so we just took Uber.”