New York, wary after Europe attacks, tightens security for New Year’s Eve

Members of the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau patrol Times Square in the lead up to New Year's celebrations in Manhattan, New York City, U.S. December 29, 2016

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City will deploy sand-filled trucks and thousands of police officers as part of a beefed-up plan to protect revelers at this year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square, mindful of two deadly truck attacks in Europe this year.

As many as 2 million people are expected to gather on Saturday to welcome the new year and authorities said on Thursday they were aware of no credible threat to the annual festivities at the famed Manhattan crossroads.

Even so, officials have redoubled efforts to prevent attacks like those in Germany and France this year in which suspected Islamic militants intentionally drove trucks into holiday crowds, killing dozens of civilians.

“People will be safe,” New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said at a news conference, aiming to allay any security concerns about the Times Square celebration, where a giant crystal ball will descend from a tower to mark the start of 2017.

“We’re going to have one of the most well-policed, best-protected events in one of the safest venues in the entire world given all the assets that we deploy here,” he said.

New York Police Chief of Department Carlos Gomez said the truck attacks in Europe were taken into consideration in planning New York’s security plan.

A truck attack at a holiday market in Berlin days before Christmas killed a dozen people and injured 56, while a similar incident in Nice, France, on Bastille Day this summer killed 86 people and injured more than 400.

Revelers in New York City on Saturday will find 65 large sanitation trucks filled with sand placed in strategic positions to block potential truck attacks, as well as about 100 other smaller “blocker” vehicles, officials said.

More than 80 sand trucks were used to protect the Macy’s 90th Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York after Islamic State militants abroad encouraged their followers to target the event, which drew an estimated 3.5 million people to the streets of the largest U.S. city.

For New Year’s Eve, the nearly 2 million visitors expected to gather in the hours before midnight may notice heavily armed police teams, bomb-sniffing dogs, helicopters and bag searches in subways. Coast Guard and police vessels will patrol the waterways surrounding Manhattan.

Officers also will make sweeps of area hotels, theaters and parking garages and monitor checkpoints where they scan for radiation and weapons, police said.

Other less visible layers of security include plainclothes officers, hundreds of security cameras, the removal of trash cans, sealed manhole covers and rooftop observation points.

All told, the New York Police Department has assigned nearly 7,000 police to Times Square and throughout the rest of the city on Saturday, officials said.

Umbrellas, large bags and alcohol are banned and portions of 57th and 59th streets will be closed to traffic.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Trott)