The Backpack Delays


The man overseeing the city’s arrest and detention process during the convention was NYPD deputy chief John Colgan, court papers show. Colgan has served since 2002 as executive officer of the Counter Terrorism Bureau but was pressed into duty this summer when his expertise was sought to oversee the expected mass arrests. Colgan’s job included overseeing the improvised detention pens set up at the old Pier 57 bus depot on the West Side (dubbed the Post-Arrest Staging Site, or PASS, in special convention lingo), as well as prisoner processing at 100 Centre Street (for RNC purposes, the Mass Arrest Processing Center—MAPC).

In an affidavit, Colgan said that things moved relatively smoothly until police were “overwhelmed with 1,139 arrests in six hours” on Tuesday, August 31 (somewhat longer than the four-hour period repeatedly invoked by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly). While police anticipated thousands of arrests, they apparently weren’t supposed to come all bunched together. “[T]his large number of arrests in a short period of time could not have been anticipated, planned for, or handled by the entire criminal justice system,” said Colgan. As a result, 24-hour arraignments became “impossible, even with all the extra planning and extra personnel added throughout the criminal justice system.”

Among the headaches police encountered that evening, Colgan stated, was “the very tedious and time-consuming process” of having to individually voucher possessions, including the contents of backpacks they suspected had been purposely stuffed full to slow down police. During the hearings themselves, city corporation counsel Michael Cardozo described the backpack conundrum, saying: “One example the police were worried about, and I’m not making this up . . . there may have been people . . . who had explosives in the backpack[s].”

The papers make no mention of delayed processing of fingerprints from the Albany databank, an excuse raised previously by Kelly and Cardozo, but disputed by state officials. In fact, Colgan says that police imported 10 “Livescan” machines, which relay computerized fingerprint images, for use at 100 Centre Street. Unfortunately, as Legal Aid lawyers pointed out in court, the new machines didn’t help speed things along, since arrestees weren’t printed until they were brought many hours later to Central Booking.