A Brief Look at NYPD Counter-Terror Tactics


By The Gunship Blogger

Is the NYPD Counter Terror model something we can implement nationwide?

The citizens of New York felt abandoned and let down by the Federal Government on September 11th (Finnegan, 2005).  A history of slow information flow and incompetence came to a head that day.  The NYPD rapidly exploded into a top notch anti-terror organization, belittling and running circles around tailor made federal programs such as DHS and the CIA.  However, these accomplishments come at a cost.  These costs preclude the program from thriving outside of that three hundred square mile city.  Parts of the program, however, may be used universally in order to aid law enforcement nationwide.

The NYPD model is ineffective with regards to large scale modeling or nationwide implementation.  At 4 billion dollars annually, that equates to 13.3 million dollars of police enforcement per square mile (Falkenrath, 2009).  Should such resources be applied nationwide, it would take 39.5 trillion dollars annually to provide the same level of policing that New York City has.  For personnel requirements, approximately 522 million police officers would be required to replicate national coverage to the scale that the NYPD currently maintains per capita (we are about 200 million short population wise right now) (Falkenrath, 2009).  So, from a strictly fiscal standpoint, wholesale emulation of the NYPD is absolutely not practical.  However, there are several techniques which others may learn from.

The experiences of the NYPD point out something I think all service members might resonate with: terrible information flow (Finnegan, 2005).  The processes the NYPD developed, in general, seem to be filling a vacuum created by the failure of an unknown Federal Agency.  The overall tone of the Finnegan article showed a hectic intersection of information and responses which seems quite reactionary.  While likely written in that way to remain riveting for the audience, it makes the actions seem very ad hoc and frenetic.  An organization such as the NYPD might be able to replicate intelligence collection functions, but there is a very large risk of potentially ignoring federal agencies due to lack of confidence (Finnegan, 2005).  Several examples stated in the piece foisted the NYPD intelligence collection apparatus as superior to that of the CIA or other agencies as they received the intel within hours versus weeks (Finnegan, 2005).  While the collection capabilities of the NYPD should be lauded, there might be instances where the boundaries of the organizations blur.

While potentially effective, the NYPD has massively militarized its police force with extremely niche tactics.  Again, this falls back upon the failures of federal law enforcement agencies, but is the massive expansion focused on increased capabilities or security theater?  Fast-rope insertions, heavily armed patrolling Hercules teams and the quote: “Many New Yorkers are happy to see the Hercules Teams” lend credence to the idea that strong image is there for comfort as much as deterrence (Finnegan, 2005).  A concern is the overreach of law enforcement as the article alludes to with the description of unmarked locations reminiscent of “x-files” (Finnegan, 2005).  Not all the changes are questionable.  For instance the NYPD reallocated traditional HAZMAT roles to itself due to the complex task of a CBRNE attack (Finnegan, 2005).  This makes sense due to the associated combat related threat that might manifest during a terrorist CBRNE attack.

The previous paragraphs might have been somewhat critical about some tactics employed by the NYPD, but there have been some good procedures which could be emulated by other organizations.  The incredible use of native speakers and former residents of terror hot spots as members of the law enforcement community is something federal law enforcement struggles with (Finnegan, 2005).  For instance in our previous readings, we noted that representation for the middle east in federal law enforcement was lacking due to a propensity of potential officers to fail background checks.  Understanding potential liabilities and working with them in order to leverage the cultural intelligence is something that the NYPD can be congratulated on (Finnegan, 2005).  The diverse ethnic mixing pot of the city lends itself to this by providing a very fertile recruiting ground.

In summary, the NYPD has done an excellent job fighting the terrorist threat, but at a very high cost.  New Yorkers expect to see heavily armed patrols randomly in town, incredible anti-terror budgets and fierce competition against Federal agencies.  Despite those potential issues, the police force incorporated more native speakers and intelligence sources into their organization, greatly decreasing information latency and granting them access to intelligence larger agencies can’t access.



Falkenrath, R. (2009). Defending the City: NYPD’s Counterterrorism Operations. Policy Watch.

Finnegan, W. (2005, July 25). The Terrorism Beat; How is the NYPD Defending the City. The New Yorker, pp. 58-72.

Terrorism, N. C. (2020). Background Report: Terrorist Attacks in New York City. College Park: University of Maryland.



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