NEW YORK — It's the biggest public party in the country. Nearly a million revelers will cram into the streets of Times Square to watch the ball drop on New Year's Eve.
It's also remarkably crime-free, safe and orderly. In the past decade, there have been few arrests and virtually no major problems funneling people in and out of the confetti-filled streets to ring in the New Year.
That's due mostly to what the partygoers don't notice: Throngs of police and counterterrorism officers blanketing the area, working from a security plan specifically tailored for the event.
Manhole covers are sealed. Counter-snipers are stationed on secret rooftops. Officers carry beeper-sized radiation detectors. Plainclothes officers are stationed in the pens with the crowds, along with a uniformed presence and undercover officers. Bomb-sniffing dogs are on site. Purses are searched. Checkpoints are set up and perimeters are created using concrete blocks. Passing vehicles are checked for safety. Haz-mat teams are on standby.
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Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday that there are no "specific threats against the city" on New Year's Eve. The 20-inch snowstorm that left the streets far from Times Square unplowed will be a memory to the crowd. Crews have removed the large drifts and warm temperatures are helping to melt what's left.
NYPD brass tweak their security plan every year, using lessons learned from previous scares like the botched Times Square car bombing in May and the attempted bombing of a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Ore., near Thanksgiving. NYPD counterterrorism chief James Waters mined information on the suicide bombing this month in Stockholm, Sweden.
"Intelligence informs a lot of what we do," Waters said. "Understanding the threat, always the basics, understanding what the threat is against New York, what's the threat against the country, and everything that comes behind that."
Police began to ramp up their security effort with worries over millennium threats.
Officers used metal pens to control where the crowd stood — keeping a path clear for emergency trucks. And they banned alcohol and backpacks. Uniformed police officers flooded the area. Plainclothes officers roamed the crowds.
After Sept. 11, 2001, "we added a counterterrorism overlay" to New Year's security, said Paul Browne, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for public information. "We have kept changing it based on the needs ever since."