In New York, security's comfort - and cost
A city calibrates rising risks and shrinking funds as sirens wail and guards ride subways.
NEW YORK — John Pena sits on a police barricade outside Grand Central Terminal, sipping coffee as he surveys the half-dozen police cars. He shakes his head. "I saw military guys with machine guns in the mezzanine," he says. "To some degree it makes me feel safe, but also, not safe at all."
With that, Mr. Pena sums up the conflict many New Yorkers feel about the dramatic increase in police and military presence since the war began - a fusion of comfort and fear that mirrors a rising ambivalence nationwide. As cities beef up security, they face nagging questions about the measures' effectiveness as well as their costs. In some places, the need to guard against terrorism competes with local police duties. In others, residents fear civil liberties are being sacrificed.
In little towns like Hopewell, Va., police work overtime to guard a chemical plant, at the expense of some of their regular patrols. In major ports like Los Angeles, police work 12-hour shifts - guarding gates and diving for explosives - racking up $6 million in overtime in the past year.
But nowhere are the effects of heightened security more magnified than in New York, the only city to have sustained a major peacetime attack in more than a century. People are edgy, even going about their daily business. Add to that the price for this show of preparedness: $5 million a day.
It's racking nerves and draining city coffers - straining an economy that hasn't rebounded from 9/11. It all adds up to what New York political analyst Fred Seigel sees as a "very vulnerable city." "There's a tension that runs through the whole city now," he says. "It's a sense of the comprehensiveness of what we're facing."
That's evident inside Grand Central, where the sirens' echo and the sight of so many police and National Guardsmen rattles Salliegh Rothrock. She's waiting to catch a Connecticut-bound train.
"Seeing all of the police makes me feel very nervous, like something is imminent," says the midtown resident. "I do think there is going to be some more terrorism because of this war. So I'm glad they're there, I just don't know how effective they can be."
But for others, like broker John Fontana, the armored vehicles on the George Washington Bridge, the gun-wielding guardsmen in subways, and the police cars outside the station, are reassuring. "The more the merrier," he says on his lunch break, leaning against a barricade.
Despite the show of force, New York is working with a handicap. The city has 36,500 police officers - 4,000 fewer than two years ago. Another 1,300 have been assigned to special counterterrorism duties. So they're trying, in Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's words, to "tighten the protective web" with fewer resources.
Still, some New Yorkers - particularly antiwar activists - feel that tightening web threatens free speech. David Becker was at a protest downtown last weekend when he was arrested and kept in jail for 12 hours. "They may be cracking down on terrorism," says the New York filmmaker. "But the antiwar movement has also become a target and we're losing a lot of our civil liberties."
Others worry what this show of force means for the future. Michael Rattner is disturbed that his 15-year-old son meets men in fatigues with machine guns as he rides the subway to school. "I don't think all of this bluster is making us any safer," says Mr. Rattner, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights. "But it does get us used to the idea that it's OK to have military men with machine guns on our bridges. And I think that's a bad idea."
Sabrina Sukiassia says that since war began, she feels "more a target than before," despite seeing twice as many police. With her daughter in a stroller by Carl Shurz Park on the Upper East Side, she looks up as a military helicopter chops through the warm spring air. "If something has to happen, it will happen - even if there are hundreds of police," she says. "So we still have to pray that nothing happens."
As the helicopter moves away, she crosses the fingers of both hands, holds them up, smiles, and turns back to her stroller.