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Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Dec 16

The Curious Case Of The Policing Levels For New York & Sydney NYE Celebrations

While both major cities have decided to employ trucks in an effort to protect against Nice / Berlin-type vehicular attacks, their policing levels vary significantly.

It seems that New York will have 7,000 police officers on duty for what they expect will be a crowd over 'over 1 million'.

Sydney is expecting a crowd of 'about 1.5 million' and will have 2,000 police officers on duty.

The New York celebrations tend to very much focused on Times Square while the Sydney celebrations cover a much larger geographical area, as seen in the map below from the SydneyNewYearsEve.com website. 

So is(n't) it interesting that New York is planning on having 3.5 times as many police officers on duty as Sydney?

The risk 

High-ranking officials in both New York and Sydney are on record as saying that they know of no specific threat to their NYE events. 

With the recent events in Berlin and Nice where a vehicle was driven into a crowd it's understandable that both cities - as well as many others, I'd imagine - have placed particular emphasis on guarding against similar style attacks for their NYE events. New York is utilising 65 20-tonne garbage trucks as well as around 100 patrol cars at intersections in and around Times Square, while Sydney will be using buses and garbage trucks in a similar vein also. 

This is a practice known within police forces as target-hardening. I recently collaborated on an article entitled 'Terrorism & Events: What Event Planners Need To Know' in which Dan Forster, an experienced UK police officer, introduced the concept of target-hardening.

Comprehensive Risk Assessments will have been carried out for both events. These will have informed the planned policing levels as well as target-hardening efforts in both cases. They will have factored in a variety of factors including the likes of:

  • Geography & topography of the event site
  • Any specific intelligence with respect to an attack
  • The history of each of the NYE events
  • The demographic of the audience
  • The likely behaviour of the audience
  • Challenges particular to the event site
  • Other demands on resources occurring at the same time
  • Road closures and traffic diversions
  • Advice from Event Safety & Crowd Safety professionals

---------- UPDATES ----------

That's not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. 

Eric Kant got in touch to add the following to the list:

  • Pressure from local politicians
  • available capacity - why line up 2,000 when you can line up 7,000?

Jim Fidler is based in Sydney and also got in touch to reaffirm the role resources play in planning for events like these. While he reckons his figures 'may be rough' he points out that New South Wales measures around 809,444 km2 and has 16,000 police, while New York is around 1,214km with 34,000 police.



I find the difference in policing levels quite interesting.*

New York and Sydney are completely different cities in completely different countries. Those involved in planning these events and ensuring the safety of the people attending are different people, with their own experiences and levels of risk-aversion etc. Each country, indeed city, has its own history and systems & procedures. 

While the events are similar, a lot is different. 

My curiosity is piqued mainly due to:

  • The similar profile of the 2 cities and the similar expected crowd sizes (large). I've written before about crowd sizes and quoted attendance figures
  • The fact that officials in both cities are reporting no specific intelligence relating to an attack.
  • The difference in the sizes of the areas to be covered by the 2 police forces for these events. It's immense. 
  • Their apparent focus (understandably, to a large degree) on guarding against a vehicular attack.

The bottom line

These are large events with large crowds that could very likely be targets for attacks. Police forces and those planning the events must act on intelligence and experience - both their own and that of other forces, countries, audiences etc. around the world. 

There will always be disparities in how events are planned and policed in different countries / jurisdictions / cities etc. 

That said, 3.5 times as many police for a much smaller geographical area seems like a huge difference. 

* When I say 'interesting', I genuinely mean interesting. I'd enjoy putting the plans for each side-by-side and speaking with those involved in the planning etc. to understand their reasoning.

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