As concerns about possible terrorist attacks remain high because of war in Iraq, state and local officials have intensified security throughout New Haven.
While the Department of Homeland Security classified the risk of terrorism as high for the third time in the last seven months, officials described the current situation as a “hard orange.” As part of Operation Liberty Shield, stricter security measures have been implemented throughout Connecticut, especially on major transportation systems.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said local authorities have undertaken the necessary measures to protect New Haven from a possible attack.
“I think we’ve taken reasonable and appropriate steps to ensure coverage at vulnerable spots,” DeStefano said. “We’ve got pretty good coverage around the city in all the places we need to be.”
Capt. Stephen Verrelli, head of patrols at the New Haven Police Department, said seven sites were classified as “priority one” responses. These sites are the Pitkin Tunnel; Waterfront Street, along the Port of New Haven; Tweed-New Haven Airport; Union Station; all federal, state and local government buildings; police headquarters; and the Emergency Operations Center.
“We have officers there 24-7,” Verrelli said.
Much of the additional security in New Haven has been concentrated at the city’s port, the second-largest in New England. Local police and the Coast Guard have both increased their patrols at the port in the last week.
In addition, Yale President Richard Levin said in an e-mail to the university that the administration is taking “all necessary precautions” to ensure campus safety.
But James Foye, director of public information for the city of New Haven, said the increased security is only part of a larger nationwide response to the heightened alert level.
“The federal government has never said that New Haven was a target for anything,” Foye said. “We have no specific kind of threat to us.”
Yet as the city increases security measures in conjunction with state and federal efforts, many local officials expressed concern over the cost of heightened protection. As president of the National League of Cities, DeStefano asked federal officials earlier this month to provide additional funding for local homeland security measures.
“I think there’s a general acknowledgement that there’s going to be some funding for homeland security,” DeStefano said. “It would be nice to get it out sooner rather than later.”
In a meeting with local officials last week, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said the federal government needed to increase funding for “first responders” — police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel who would be first on the scene in case of a terrorist attack.
“With so many state governments in budget crises and Connecticut facing its own $650 million budget deficit this year alone, it is the obligation of the government to help prepare for the possibility of future terrorist attacks,” DeLauro said. “With our country on heightened alert and at a time when communities like ours are stretched as they try to protect their citizens in a difficult economy, we need to make sure first responders get the funding they need.”
Both Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the Metro-North commuter rail service, have heightened security on trains. Amtrak spokesman Dan Stessel said officers on Amtrak’s security force are now working on 12-hour shifts instead of their usual eight hours, greatly increasing the number of officers on duty at any given time.
Since March 20, state troopers from Connecticut and New York have accompanied every Metro-North train traveling between New Haven and New York City. MTA spokesman John McCarthy said there was also increased protection of stations and infrastructure.
And at Tweed-New Haven and Bradley International airports, officers are randomly inspecting vehicles going both to arrivals and departures and more canine units are checking for explosives in and around the terminals, said Dan Lee of the Transportation Security Administration.
Security personnel for New Haven buses now carry out inspections of the perimeters of their facilities at least once each shift and keep closer watch of people entering and exiting, said David Lee, general manager of CT Transit. In addition, bus drivers have been asked to be more vigilant and report any problems or suspicions.
While state police spokesman Sgt. J. Paul Vance said Connecticut was not a particular target for terrorism, he urged citizens to help protect themselves.
“People still need to be participatory and be our eyes and ears out there,” Vance said.