When our photo staff began to plan for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it was difficult to know where coverage should begin. The first story that came to mind is how Ground Zero has changed. It has been remarkable to watch the buildings being constructed. Not only have we seen them rise above ground level, but slowly surpass the height of every other building in lower Manhattan. Colleagues of mine have done a wonderful job of documenting the evolution of the site and the reactions of those around it, but while that might be the most obvious story to tell, it was not the most profound change that I feel has taken place in New York since the attacks. For me, the most significant modification is that security has become omnipresent in the city.
Security has emerged as a fact of life here. When we fly we have to take off our shoes and throw away our water bottles. Every commercial building in New York has a security team and identification is required to get to work. The speakers in the subway system continually remind us that “if you see something, say something” and photographing a building that lies in full view of the public is considered a suspicious activity. While this all might seem like an Orwellian society in which “Big Brother” is constantly looking down upon us, it is necessary to remember that New York has been the target of two major successful attacks, one foiled attack, and unknown numbers of prevented attacks since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
The most visual way to show this shift in New York’s security is to document the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) counter terrorism units. According to their website, the Counter Terrorism Bureau of the NYPD was created by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in 2002 as a direct response to the realization that the city could not rely solely on the federal government for the safety of it’s citizens. The department’s counter terrorism units are the result of the NYPD’s evolution from being a purely domestic reactionary police force to their current manifestation as the primary preventative law enforcement agency for New York City. While the average New Yorker has seen a gradual change in how the department operates since September 11, what is different may not be readily apparent. This photo essay is an attempt to show the many tasks that this section of the NYPD performs in their effort to safeguard the city.
The Critical Response Vehicle (CRV) deployments and Hercules teams were both begun by the NYPD almost immediately after the attacks of September 11. They remain an active part of the counter terror regimen today. A CRV deployment consists of dozens of patrol cars flashing their lights while driving through predetermined routes in the city. Officers from each borough come together to plan the deployment beforehand and the entire operation is often seen driving through highly trafficked areas.
The Hercules teams are one of the most strikingly visual units in the NYPD. These teams consist of an intelligence officer, a canine unit, a highway patrol unit and a small squad of heavily armed police officers who travel throughout the city. They are meant to work as both a method of keeping the teams prepared in case of an emergency and as a visual reminder that the NYPD is present and prepared for the worst case scenario. The locations that the CRV and Hercules teams visit can be randomly selected or, in some cases, specifically chosen because of intelligence that the department has about potential threats. The public’s reaction to these units ranges from being alarmed to feeling comforted by their presence to wondering “which celebrity is shopping in Whole Foods?”