Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio has sent out the special Hudson County Rapid Deployment Force to regularly patrol the ferries that depart out of the NY Waterway ferry terminal in Weehawken, as well as ferries that leave from nearby Hoboken and Jersey City.
"Based on what took place in London, which resulted in an elevated alert level by our national Department of Homeland Security, the New Jersey State Police and the United States Coast Guard asked for more security on the ferries going across the Hudson River," DeFazio said. "The State Police were in contact with us and we agreed with their assessment and sent out the Rapid Deployment team."
The Hudson County Rapid Deployment Team was formed a little over a year ago. It is comprised of 120 law enforcement personnel from all of Hudson County's 12 municipalities, as well as the Hudson County's Sheriff's Office and investigators from the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office.
It was formed to provide special security for special events, as per request by the federal Department of Homeland Security.
"It was actually put together last year to have ready in case anything was going to happen at the Republican National Convention in New York," DeFazio said. "We received a request at the time from the State Police to provide additional security, so the team was formed."
Each municipality was asked to select the officer or officers who would be rest represent their respective police departments and would be willing to go through the special training necessary to become a member of the Rapid Deployment Force.
The force was on call in time for the Republican Convention, but they were never really needed. Some members of the Rapid Deployment Force were called upon to help with the security for President Bush's second inauguration last January.
Local duty However, this was the first time that they had been summoned to local duty. The call went out to provide security for any vessel with 150 or more passengers.
"It has to do with a terrorist incident, even though the incident didn't happen here in the United States," DeFazio said. "Our force is ready to respond when required. The request came from the State Police and we deemed that it was appropriate. We did not have to call the entire team, although our full complement is a good group. They're very dedicated and well trained."
Beginning on the Friday after the London bombings, there were 35 members of the Deployment Force manning the ferries in Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City in the morning rush hour period, with at least two officers providing security as passengers entered the boats and then on the boats themselves.
At the afternoon rush hour, there were 25 officers assigned to ferry patrol. So roughly half of the entire Deployment Force was put into service with this latest ferry patrol.
"They are there as a visible deterrent to report any suspicious activity and to make people feel more comfortable," DeFazio said. "There is no specific threat involving the ferries."
Will remain DeFazio said that the force will remain on the ferries until the national terrorist threat level is reduced.
"There is no set date when the threat level will be reduced," DeFazio said. "They're going to be a continued presence certainly until the level is reduced, even if it is to a lesser degree."
DeFazio said that the officers are not doing actual searches of commuters.
"However, some people are subject to random searches if something looks suspicious," DeFazio said. "Bags, briefcases and such are also subject to search."
The officers are receiving overtime pay for their presence on the ferries, and they have not been stripped from regular patrol forces to provide the ferry security.
"We are hopeful that the federal Department of Homeland Security will reimburse our police departments for the deployment service, but there's no guarantee of that," DeFazio said. "We believe that the deployment has been well received."
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz applauded the efforts. He ordered to have a regular police patrol near the NY Waterway ferry terminal in Weehawken after the bombings in London, but then pulled it back when he received word of the Rapid Deployment Force's presence.
"We are grateful to Prosecutor DeFazio for making the call to send out the Rapid Deployment team," Welz said. "It is essential to be able to provide the proper security for those who use the ferry service. The first call was to protect the bridges and tunnels, but Prosecutor DeFazio knew that the ferry system was also an important part of the mass transportation system."
Commuters respond Some regular commuters were pleased to see an added police presence.
"After what happened in London, it's better to be safe than sorry," said Marianne Weathers, a Weehawken resident who uses the NY Waterway system daily to her job in Manhattan. "We're always on alert after 9/11, so if there are more police on the boats, that helps us feel safer. It's a good thing."
"I never complain now when someone asks to open my briefcase," said attorney Edward O'Halloran, who commutes back and forth daily on the ferries. "If having more police on the boats means that we're going to be safer, then I'm all for it."
However, Rick Saltarelli of North Bergen, an advocate against the ferry system and one of the founders of the organization Ferry Friends, didn't think it was that big of a deal.
"One officer made me flip open my briefcase once," said Saltarelli. "I personally think they're doing this to appease people. I didn't notice anything different. I didn't see that many officers on the ferries."
The increased presence should remain in force for the next few weeks at the latest.
Weehawken police officer John Mulvaney, who also served with the Deployment Force at Bush's inauguration, has been doing regular duty with the Deployment Force during this latest operation.