Mayor Bloomberg, alongside a phalanx of top cops, stepped up to the podium at a security briefing at police headquarters on the afternoon of Aug. 9 and took a deep breath.
In the middle of giving a speech meant to reassure the public that the city will be secure during those heady days in late August, Mr. Bloomberg paused to add a dramatic footnote to the proceedings.
“We should never forget that the war we’re fighting overseas started here on the streets of New York,” intoned Mr. Bloomberg, before handing the podium over to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The military analogy may have been appropriate considering the army of security personnel who will descend on Madison Square Garden the week of Aug. 30.
At least 20,000 law-enforcement officers from agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Connecticut-based civilian units of the Army National Guard will help secure the convention. Considering that the convention will attract 48,000 visitors, from delegates and lobbyists to the media horde, that amounts to one security officer for every 2.4 civilians at the convention.
This platoon of protectors will prowl the avenues and train stations, many sporting bulletproof vests and hoisting weaponry that is the stuff of video-game fantasies, casting a watchful eye over a city that is primed to be emptied of many of its inhabitants and workers through the steamy final days of August.
“This is an NSSE-a national security special event,” said Rich Staropoli, the Secret Service’s assistant special agent in charge. “We’re gonna utilize a good portion of the entire Secret Service, anyone who’s available besides those [who protect current and former prominent politicians]. We don’t have 10,000 guys like the NYPD, but probably 3,000 agents as well as uniformed division officers.”
With such shock and awe on display in and around Madison Square Garden and other high-profile spots such as the Citigroup Center and the Statue of Liberty, many of Manhattan’s less newsworthy corporate residents consequently are left somewhat exposed.
“I know that the police force is being extraordinarily deployed … placing incredible strain on the New York Police Department in terms of diverting resources,” said Eli Silverman, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing . “People are working overtime; they’re pulling people from all areas of the department who would normally be doing other things to be deployed for convention.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that the U.S. Open is taking place, and both the Mets and Yankees are playing at home that week. “Many sources tell me that they are stretching their resources well past their limit,” says City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., the chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee. “Other areas of the city will be covered by bare-bones shifts. I monitor some of the local precincts’ radios, and the other day, when they had to pull out officers for the security threat at the Citicorp building, we had one patrol car in my district.”
These concerns have led to speculation that those vast swathes of the city that aren’t in lock-down might be vulnerable to anything from terrorist attacks to break-ins, as was seen recently in Davenport, Iowa, where three bank robberies occurred while George W. Bush and John Kerry were campaigning there simultaneously. (And everybody knows that the potential for misdeeds is significantly greater in New York than in aw-shucks Iowa.)
Those simultaneous risks of homegrown criminality and international terrorism have left companies based in the city with three choices: Conduct business as usual and hope for the best; slim down and operate on skeleton crews by letting people telecommute from the suburbs; or beef up security privately, mostly by hiring independent security firms.
And therein lies the shadow side of the government’s array of security forces-the private consultants at security firms such as Giuliani Partners, Kroll, SafirRosetti and Criterion Partners, some of which are advising clients during the convention. Although discreet about their client lists, most of them will attest to increased sales in recent months.
“The convention has generated a significant amount of business,” says Howard Safir, the former police commissioner who founded SafirRosetti, the exclusive security consultant to real-estate firm CB Richard Ellis. “We are ending up with business from the periphery, a lot of venues that are not in the frozen zone, helping them with security planning and technology.”
Sometimes these firms are called upon to supplement the government’s array of security forces. According to two people familiar with security planning for the convention, Giuliani Partners, the firm founded by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was tapped by the Republican National Committee over a year ago to provide advice on security issues. “They picked him before he was chosen as a speaker at the convention,” says one high-level security expert. “Rudy’s got such a good reputation, and they’ve got Bernie Kerik, who was NYPD commissioner, and he’s got the respect of the NYPD, so there’s a comfort factor there …. The R.N.C. wanted some advice on developing an evacuation plan.”
If Mr. Giuliani did provide security advice to the R.N.C., that would just be another indication of the former Mayor’s octopus-like hold on the gala. Not only is Mr. Giuliani the chair of the Host Committee, instrumental in luring the Republicans to New York, but he also has a prominent speaking role at the convention.
Spokesmen for the Committee on Arrangements say that they’ve never paid private firms for security work. A spokeswoman for Giuliani Partners denied that the firm had done work for the R.N.C.
Another firm that was in discussions with the R.N.C. was SafirRosetti. “I met with some R.N.C. people a year ago, but when the convention was declared a NSSE, that changed the whole perspective,” said Mr. Safir. “They were exploring their options at the time.”
For the most part, these hired guns keep their plans close to the vest. Asked about his plans for the convention, Mr. Kerik said, “I’m going to be enjoying myself, just as every New Yorker should be. I’ll be going to a number of different events, I’ll be meeting with a number of different people, talking to them about the President and why he should be re-elected.”