While some European cities have decided to scrap plans for fireworks and other New Year’s events, major U.S. cities have yet to go that far -– instead promising a robust security presence to protect revelers amid new threats from ISIS and other terror groups.
In recent weeks, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been sifting through a surge of suspicious activity reports and a litany of potential threats coming in from across the globe. But so far, the FBI says they are “not aware of any specific, credible threats to the homeland.”
Nevertheless, federal counter-terrorism officials and local law enforcement agencies are taking no chances.
Even before the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, the Department of Homeland Security decided to designate this year’s Rose Bowl and Rose Parade outside Los Angeles as a top-tier security event, according to a senior Immigration and Customs and Enforcement official.
“You have to hope for the best and plan for the worst,” said Mark Selby, the Deputy Special-Agent-in-Charge for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles.
That top-tier designation means DHS alone will be bringing “unprecedented” resources to bear, including an X-ray machine to scan trucks entering the stadium as well as a dozen bomb-sniffing dogs, Selby said. In addition, ICE will be deploying license-plate readers to collect basic information on vehicles heading in and out of the Pasadena area -– but if nothing nefarious happens, the collected information will be destroyed, according to Selby.
In New York City, the NYPD is allotting more than 5,000 officers to Times Square, where last year more than 1 million people converged to celebrate.
“Leave the worrying to the NYPD,” Chief of Department James O'Neill told reporters Tuesday. “People should feel safe this New Year’s Eve because we are there. You will have one of the most well-policed, best-protected events at one of the safest venues in the entire world.”
For New Year's in the nation's capital, police are executing an "enhanced deployment strategy" across the city, and dispatching additional personnel to "nightlife areas," according to a department spokesman.
"As Washington, D.C., is often mentioned in propaganda from those that wish to do harm, the [Metropolitan Police Department] and our partner agencies review all threats and determine an appropriate posture of preparedness," the spokesman said.
Across the country in Los Angeles, police officials say their officers will be highly visible, as they always are during such events. An LAPD spokesman said his agency will be reminding officers and citizens alike to “be on alert” and notify authorities of anything suspicious.
“We’re always prepared for something to happen. We always hope that nothing does happen… but if something were to arise, we are prepared for anything,” the spokesman added.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have expressed particular concern about threats against Americans overseas. In Dhaka, Bangladesh, for example, the U.S. embassy issued a notice Tuesday, warning of “possible attacks against hotels and clubs in Dhaka in late December 2015, potentially in connection with New Year’s Eve celebrations.”
Two weeks ago, the U.S. embassy in Brussels, Belgium, posted a notice online saying: “The holiday season is always a special time of year. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget as we rush about our lives that … Belgian authorities still believe that terrorists either could be in Belgium or are planning an attack here.”
The notice is still prominently displayed on the embassy’s website. And while noting the U.S. government currently has no information of a specific threat against Americans “per se,” the notice said, “One cannot stress enough the absolute necessity for U.S. citizens to continue to maintain a heightened sense of awareness and continue to avoid large crowds.”
The mayor of Brussels announced Wednesday that his city’s fireworks display was being canceled due to the current threat environment.
Officials in Paris took the same precaution -– only weeks after an ISIS-inspired terror attack in France’s capital left scores dead and hundreds more hurt.