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NYC Police Seek to Control Security at Ground Zero

Fri May 23, 2008 - Northeast Edition

NEW YORK (AP) Since Sept. 11, 2001, turf wars have flared up between city police and the state-run police force in charge of ground zero security. In recent weeks, the skirmish has heated up.

The city’s police department has proposed taking the lead on security at the site, which is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an agency run by the governors of those states.

The New York Police Department’s chief concern, officials say, is the risk of truck bomb attacks, particularly at three office towers to be built along reconstructed city streets.

News that the NYPD was staking claim to ground zero has rankled Port Authority police.

“We have what they have,” said Gus Danese, president of the Port Authority’s police union. “We have the joint terrorist task force. We have a response team. We have emergency services. We have an aviation unit. We have canines, bomb detection dogs.”

The latest dispute began when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently proposed allowing the city to oversee security on streets surrounding the towers and Sept. 11 memorial, said Michael Balboni, the state’s deputy secretary for public safety.

“This is his effort to focus discussion on the absolute best way to control access and address the ... threat of an explosives device being put up against the larger buildings,” Balboni said.

The lower Manhattan site, which used to be a superblock before the 2001 terrorist attacks, would have city streets crisscrossing through it when it is rebuilt over the next several years, giving city police authority on the streets.

The Port Authority’s 1,600-member police force would maintain security at the PATH train station in the area, Balboni said. It was uncertain who would oversee security for the Sept. 11 memorial, which has a below-ground museum planned. Safety experts have proposed a combination of armed security guards and city and Port Authority police for memorial visitors.

Kelly said that the 35,000-member police department is in constant contact with the Port Authority about all sorts of security issues, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

Asked March 26 about security at ground zero, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “This is just making sure there’s seamless security down there ... as the development goes forward down in the World Trade Center area, not just in that site.”

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the NYPD has billed itself as a leader among police departments nationwide on security and counterterrorism issues.

Its concerns about the risk of truck bomb attacks against landmark sites forced the redesign in 2005 of the Freedom Tower after it said the 1,776-foot (541 m) skyscraper’s open lobby and proximity to West Street made it a likely terrorist target. The building, which had a cornerstone laid a year earlier that had to be moved, was delayed by three years and redesigned at a cost of millions of dollars.

In 2006, after authorities discovered a plot to bomb a PATH train tunnel at the site to flood lower Manhattan, city police posted officers 24 hours a day in front of the fenced-off site to watch cars and construction trucks going in and out.

Concerns about terror threats at the site have focused on the memorial and the Freedom Tower, but Balboni said, “The World Trade Center footprint could be the most highly prized target on the globe.”

He said the city and Port Authority police should be able to work together, after discussions over how to police the site that include the Port Authority, state and city officials and trade center developer Larry Silverstein.

“Everyone understands the nature of the threat, the urgency and the need for cooperation,” he said.

Danese, president of the Port Authority’s police union, said about 30 officers are assigned to a precinct for the 16-acre (6.48 ha) site, which includes the train station and a construction site where hundreds of workers are building the towers, memorial and expanded transit hub. He said the officers are just as well equipped to fight terrorism as the NYPD is.

“I would have liked to know what they would have done differently on Sept. 11,” Danese said. “What was their game plan?”

(Associated Press writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.)

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