NEW YORK — There are no known security threats related to this weekend’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, but the New York Police Department is gearing up for the possibility that thousands of pro-Palestine protesters will be demonstrating nearby, Mayor Eric Adams and police officials said Friday.
In an afternoon security briefing outside the NYPD’s Times Square substation, Adams said the Police Department is still on high alert, citing an incident at last year’s Times Square ball drop event where a Maine teenager allegedly attacked three NYPD officers with a machete.
“There are no specific threats to the city, but as we saw last year, you don’t have to have a specific threat to get a threat, and we’re going to be ready,” said the mayor, who was joined by top NYPD leaders.
Although there’s no known threats of violence on the horizon, pro-Palestine groups have for weeks called for mass protests in Times Square on New Year’s Eve against Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which local authorities say has killed more than 20,000 people, many of them children. Israel launched the military action after Hamas, which controls Gaza, killed 1,200 Israelis and took hundreds hostage during a terror attack on Oct. 7.
John Hart, an assistant NYPD chief in charge of the department’s intelligence division, noted that other pro-Palestine protests in the city over the past couple months have drawn between 1,000 and 5,000 people.
“We’re prepared for them in any number,” Hart said of expected demonstrations at Sunday’s celebration. “We’re prepared for different groups from different places, and we will make sure this event stays safe.”
On Christmas Day, six pro-Palestine protesters were arrested near the Rockefeller Center, which is blocks from Times Square, amid clashes with cops.
In anticipation of Times Square protests on Sunday, Assistant NYPD Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said the department will use “the same blueprint” it did when pro-Palestine demonstrators tried to interrupt the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting last month.
“We’re going to have tow trucks strategically parked along the actual New Year’s Eve festivities, and we’re going to have drones deployed around the outer perimeter so we can monitor the protests, potential protests that are coming in real time,” said Daughtry.
Thousands of cops will also patrol the Times Square area during the celebrations, officials said.
A top police official who was absent from Friday’s briefing was NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban.
Asked by The New York Daily News about Caban’s whereabouts, Adams said he has been in the Dominican Republic, but will return to New York on Saturday.
“He was doing several agreements down there,” Adams said.
A spokeswoman for the mayor would not elaborate on what the mayor meant by “agreements.” An NYPD spokesman later said Caban has been vacationing on the island.
“But, you know, I say this over and over again, if the Police Department can only function when the police commissioner’s here, we’re in trouble,” Adams said. “This is a well-oiled machine. One person does not run the show.”
Earlier this week, Adams voiced concern that the NYPD’s response to recent protests has been hampered by a court settlement the department entered into in September that requires it to deploy fewer officers to most public demonstrations and stop using a controversial mass arrest tactic known as “ kettling.” The settlement came out of a lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter protesters who allege their First Amendment rights were violated by the NYPD during demonstrations in 2020.
“I thought it put us on a very troubling direction,” Adams said this past Tuesday of the settlement.
But Adams held a much different view when the department first entered into the settlement, saying at the time that it struck the right “balance” between public safety and First Amendment rights.
Asked Friday why he changed his mind, Adams said recent pro-Palestine protests have shown the settlement can be “exploited.”
“We’re seeing some of that exploitation now,” he said.
Referencing recent demonstrations on the Brooklyn Bridge, he added: “When you have 5,000 people deciding to block the bridge and all you can do is issuing them a summons, I think it’s an encouragement of behavior to be disruptive in the city, and I don’t want to ever encourage behavior to be disruptive in the city.”