The team of police officers crisscrosses down a New York City block, bracing for a potential firefight with heavily armed suspects who have taken hostages inside a building.
“We know there are hostages in there,” Lieutenant Kenneth Beatty warns while supervising the operation. “The number’s unknown.”
It’s not real, but it’s not a standard training session, either.
Local authorities believe New York City could be a potential target of militants trained and supplied as well as those who staged coordinated attacks in Mumbai last November, and New York Police Department leaders are determined not to be outgunned.
“Terrorists are thinking creatively about new tactics,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said last week at a City Council public safety hearing. “So must we.”
The largest US police department launched a counterterrorism initiative this month to train a new team of officers with semiautomatic rifles loaded with armor-piercing bullets.
The officers also are being trained in tactics for close quarters combat and rescuing hostages in hotels and other high-rise buildings.
After the three-day assault in Mumbai on luxury hotels, a Jewish center and other sites in November left 164 people dead, the NYPD dispatched investigators to India to see if there were any security lessons for New York. They were struck by how the 10 shooters calmly caused so much mayhem by relying on cellphone communication and Chinese knockoff AK-47s. The local police and security officers, they said, were clearly overwhelmed.
“Their weapons were not sufficiently powerful and they were not trained for that type of conflict,” Kelly said. “It took more than 12 hours for properly armed Indian commandos to arrive.”
The NYPD’s 400 Emergency Service Unit officers already can carry fully automatic Colt M4 rifles — what the manufacturer bills as “the weapon of the 21st century soldier.”
But post-Mumbai, the department decided to train about 130 reinforcements from its Organized Crime Control Bureau with Ruger Mini-14s in case a militant force even larger than the one that struck India’s financial capital invaded here. Police academy recruits will get a tutorial on how to secure assault weapons recovered in combat situations or, in a pinch, how to shoot them.
The NYPD also has begun videotaping the interiors of large hotels so emergency service officers can learn their layouts and match wits with terrorists who, as in Mumbai, may have done surveillance.
In addition, Kelly told the city council that the police want to explore ways to disrupt cell phone service “in a pinpointed way against terrorists who are using them.”
The training session last week took place at the police department’s firearms training facility on a desolate, wind-swept peninsula in the borough of the Bronx.
The street the officers crisscrossed is the NYPD version of a movie studio back lot, with mock street signs, cinderblock storefronts, even a yellow cab and city bus. The guns can’t fire. The hostages are played by other officers.
Instructors drilled officers on how to rescue hostages while giving each other cover.
They warned that terrorists could try to blend in with victims. Any lapse in concentration could prove deadly.
“You guys have to communicate!” one instructor yelled as the officers secured a darkened stairwell as an escape route.