By Bill Bratton
There seems to be a widespread belief among certain members of the political class that protecting the country against terrorism is a matter of ideology. According to them, the strong leaders in this area are the ones who are willing to insult Muslims, advocate torture, and engage in various other provocations. They claim that other leaders are paralyzed by political correctness and that they alone have the ideological fortitude to guard against the terrorist threat.
Terrorism is ideologically driven but counterterrorism, like other kinds of police work, has no ideological component whatsoever. It is about stopping the terrorists before they strike. That requires intelligence gathering, analysis and focused investigative work.
In the event of a terrorist attack, police also need the capacity to respond swiftly and with effective tactics. It is a matter of consistent, determined, targeted detective work, of highly trained and well-equipped operational units, and of intelligence analysts who can interpret the data, decipher the chatter and distinguish the real threats from the bluster and the noise.
Recently, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz called for police to “patrol and secure Muslim communities before they become radicalized.” We already patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods, the same way we patrol and secure other neighborhoods.
When people call the police, we rush to help them. When people break the law, we move to arrest them. But no, we do not single out any populace, black, white, yellow or brown for selective enforcement. We do not “patrol and secure” neighborhoods based on selective enforcement because of race or religion, nor will we use the police and an occupying force to intimidate a populace or a religion to appease the provocative chatter of politicians seeking to exploit fear.
Nor will we accept the fiction of Sen. Cruz’s narrative as presented. Cruz repeated the false reports surrounding the NYPD Demographics Unit and my decision to abolish it because it wasn’t serving any useful purpose. He tried to depict the demise of the unit, as other ill-informed observers have done, as a knuckling under to the forces of political correctness rather than the sensible administrative decision that it was. The fact is that the former administration had allowed the unit to dwindle down to two investigators. Why? Because the work of the unit, which was to map the ethnic makeup of the city to better understand the domain of the New York metropolitan area, was finished. The two remaining detectives simply had little to do.
This sensible move was translated in the bumper-sticker, sound bite language of politics to be one of two extremes. Either transferring the last two detectives out of the Demographics Unit ended an extensive spying program that inhibited religious freedom (it wasn’t and it didn’t) or, we eliminated the key program protecting New York City from terrorists and with it, our undercover operations, informants and surveillance (it wasn’t and we didn’t).
It is clear from his comments that Sen. Cruz knows absolutely nothing about counterterrorism in New York City. We have in this city, without a doubt, the most effective and extensive counterterrorism capacity of any city in this country and virtually any city in the world. Let me count the ways:
The Joint-Terrorism Task Force, with the FBI, has more than 100 NYPD detectives working full time on counterterrorism investigations. They do not place entire communities under surveillance, but at any given time, based on authorized investigations, they may be watching individuals who have aroused suspicion as to possibly being involved in terrorist activity. Our Intelligence Bureau detectives work with informants, surveillance teams, undercover officers and cyber specialists on investigations that are documented, authorized and regularly reviewed to protect the city from terrorism.
The Critical Response Command, founded on Mayor de Blasio’s watch, deploys more than 500 highly trained and thoroughly equipped officers to critical sites and potential targets. These officers would be immediately deployable to any attack, or series of attacks, and could engage heavily armed terrorists without delay. Given the pattern of attacks in Europe where terrorists hit multiple sites simultaneously and showed the clear intention to kill as many people as possible, these new units have the mission of engaging the terrorists, as quickly as possible, with equal firepower and superior training to stop the killing as soon as possible. The CRC is backed up by other commands with counterterrorism capabilities, including the Strategic Response Group and the Emergency Service Unit. These NYPD units have the capacity to deploy hundreds of heavily armed officers to any attack site in the city at any time of the day or night.
The NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau, which encompasses both the Joint Terrorism Task Force and Critical Response Command, also houses a wide variety of other capabilities, including a 40-officer bomb squad; a 150-officer World Trade Center Command; radiological detection water vessels and aircraft; an infrastructure unit that hardens targets across the city; and a public-private partnership called SHIELD, with a membership of some 15,000 local property and business owners.
The NYPD Intelligence Bureau is staffed not only with police officers but highly skilled civilian intelligence analysts, the sort of experts who work in national intelligence. They are continuously vetting leads, hints and rumors to keep the threat picture in New York updated. The Intelligence Bureau also maintains liaison officers in multiple cities around the world who can swiftly report back to us on any attack anywhere on Earth.
The NYPD Domain Awareness System is one of the most sophisticated networks of cameras, license plate readers and radiological censors in the world, providing real-time information across southern Manhattan and in many other parts of the city.
So, no, transferring the two detectives we found languishing in the already defunct Demographics Unit did not have any effect on our ability to protect New York City from terrorists. Sen. Cruz’s references to the discontinuance of the Demographics Unit shows he has been hoodwinked by a 21st century fairy tale that refuses to die. He uses it in tandem with his suggestions that the police create a looming presence to intimidate Muslim neighborhoods with a show of force.
In New York City, we protect all communities from crime and terrorism—yes, Muslim communities too—because like us, they are Americans who own businesses, work hard, pay taxes and dream of a better life for their children. Over 900 of them work in my police department as police officers, many of them in counterterrorism and intelligence. Many of them have served in the military and fought for their country. We police our city not by campaign slogans or inflammatory rhetoric, but by an old piece of parchment called the U.S. Constitution and another called the Bill of Rights.
Ted Cruz and others seem to be willing to sideline these principles because what they stand for shifts with the tide of the campaign and the shrillness of the name-calling. But as it has been said, when you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. Sen. Cruz needs to do some homework before he speaks again.
Meanwhile, in New York, we will continue keeping the city safe while policing constitutionally, respectfully, and effectively.
Bill Bratton is the commissioner of the NYPD. This opinion piece appeared in the March 27 edition of the New York Daily News.