Law of the Fist

New York Cops Vow to Crush Violent Protest at World Economic Forum

Timoney was bloodied in Philadelphia; Hauer was side by side with the cops in Melbourne; Ray Kelly, well, Ray Kelly led the marine contingent in Haiti, ran U.S. Customs, and has returned for a second tour of duty as New York's police commissioner. They embody the blue-collared, multi-ethnic centurions who will keep order at the Waldorf when the conference begins.

Last Thursday, in the parking lot of Shea Stadium, many of those cops were on hand for a media show-and-tell of the NYPD's tactical-response ability. "Operation Decorum at the Forum," it was dubbed on the covers of briefing books held by senior police officials. The drills featured blue and white helicopters jug-jugging smoothly to landings on the edge of mock demonstrations. Squads of chestnut horses guided by the yellow-striped navy leggings of their mounted unit riders took up position to block more protesters from joining. Wedges of blue behind riot helmets poked their nightsticks forward, shouting "Move, move" in unison with each half-step.

This is not CHiPS, buddy—this is New York. Our centurions don't inspire fear, resembling in their bunched and belted tunics a Busby Berkeley version of a Fats nightmare on the eve of a big eight-ball tournament. But they do mean business.

As a point of pride, the officers and agents the Voicespoke to make clear they are in no mood for any blots on New York, not with the city still finding its legs after September 11. They also make clear that if these raging hordes want to do something for labor, they might consider protesting in favor of a pay raise for New York's finest. Four months after crawling out of the World Trade Center, cops here still make about 22 percent less than their counterparts who patrol leafy Long Island villages such as Locust Valley, where crime is generally limited to speeding and unleashed dogs.

There were a few details jarringly wrong about the protesters, played by young cadets out of the New York City Police Academy who chanted "No justice, no peace" as they linked arms in locked boxes and sat down demanding to be arrested. Most were nonwhite. Most were not yet college graduates. They looked more likely to have a parent who was a partner in a bodega or a newsstand than an accounting firm.

"No justice, no peace, no justice, no peace," they chanted as cops practiced the art of freeing arms locked by carabiners from the finest outdoor-supply stores. On hand were Emergency Service Squad vans and imposing chromed trucks filled with riot shields and helmets, nonlethal Tasers, very lethal Colt M-4's, Beretta 9mm's, and scoped Ruger varmint guns.

Behind the trucks and vans and horses and helicopters sat other vans marked "Communications," "Temporary Headquarters," "Queens North Task Force," "Queens South Task Force." These communications and tactical command posts bristled with a forest of aerials. Inside, ranking chiefs and inspectors could monitor the flow of moving demonstrations and cope with ruses put on by protesters to lure cops away from targets and then rush unprotected doors. Wary of brutality by their own, the commanders could monitor video footage shot by the Tactical Assistance and Response Unit.

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Arms and the men: But they promise not to squelch peaceful dissent . . .
(photo: Jake Price)

The demonstration capped two weeks of twice-a-day preparation drills. In addition to the overwhelming uniformed presence on the streets, the Eighth Floor Operational command at One Police Plaza will be at full tilt, as will the FBI command center at 26 Federal Plaza. The Office of Emergency Management's HQ will be on alert for bioterrorism. Around the Waldorf, a frozen zone of roughly five blocks will inconvenience New Yorkers, but will further protect the stately hotel.

"It will be Fortress Waldorf," says Timoney. He notes the protesters are skilled at posing as delegates, hotel workers, and maintenance workers—whatever it takes to infiltrate, agitate, and disrupt. They face a police force and its federal backfield that have weathered Crown Heights, a million-plus millennium celebration, a World Series in the midst of an anthrax scare, a terror-threatened New Year's Eve, and 600-plus demonstrations a year that are shrugged off as almost routine.

"You could say we practice every day," says Police Commissioner Kelly. "We are disciplined. Confident. The World Economic Forum will go smoothly. We do not anticipate any trouble." But if it comes, Kelly's troops are ready.

"Before we even planned this meeting we asked then mayor Giuliani and his police commissioner if the city could handle it. 'Yes, we can handle it,' they told us," says Charles McLean, spokesman for the forum, which moved to New York to lend economic support to the staggered city.

According to law enforcement sources, more than 600 detectives will be assigned to diplomatic protection, while hundreds of others will work with FBI and other federal colleagues in monitoring intelligence reports that might indicate terrorists are seeking to capitalize on any chaos. So far, there are no reports of that kind, federal and city law enforcement officials say.

Operating under the guidelines of the Handschuh agreement, a memorandum of understanding limiting political surveillance, the New York City police have also developed intelligence on potentially violent protesters. Meanwhile, they're taking care to avoid doing anything that might be construed as interfering with the right to free speech for those with no history of lawbreaking. "That is the tightrope we walk, as we should," Timoney says.

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