NEW YORK (AP) — Fans of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade who come to see the soaring SpongeBob and Snoopy balloons may get a far less heartwarming sight this year: giant dump trucks filled with sand.
More than 80 city sanitation trucks will be used at intersections and other strategic spots along the 2 ½ mile parade route to create an imposing physical barrier to terror. The trucks weigh about 16 tons empty and up to twice that with sand.
“You can ram a New York City Sanitation Department sand truck with a lot of things, but you’re not going to move it,” said John Miller, the New York Police Department’s top counterterrorism official.
While the trucks have been used like this before — most recently to protect Trump Tower — the New York Police Department says they will play a bigger role at this year’s parade in the wake of the cargo truck attack in Nice, France, that killed more than 80 people and a recent posting in an English-language Islamic State magazine that called the parade “an excellent target.”
As scary as that sounds, authorities say there’s no confirmation of a credible threat and they have repeatedly urged spectators to not stay away.
Miller said that while such postings are psychological warfare intended to spread a message of fear, “We never accede to that.” A front-page headline in Tuesday’s Daily News creatively paraphrased the message the NYPD seeks to send: “Truck You, ISIS!”
Aside from the trucks, security for the parade includes teams of officers armed with assault weapons, bomb-sniffing dogs and portable radiation detectors. Plainclothes officers will blend in with the crowd, and other officers will be posted on rooftops along the parade route.
The effort comes at a time when the nation’s largest police department already is stretching its resources to protect the midtown Manhattan home of President-elect Donald Trump. On Election Day, at least a half-dozen dump trucks walled off Trump Tower’s entrance on Fifth Avenue, making for photos that went viral on the internet.
There was a similar dump truck spectacle with Ronald Reagan as president in 1983, when the Secret Service stationed them at the White House. Officials at the time indicated it was a response to unspecified threats in the wake of the truck bomb attack on a Marine compound in Beirut that killed 239 American soldiers.
In recent years, authorities also have used the trucks to help safeguard the United Nations General Assembly and President Barack Obama’s motorcades when he visits the city — an instant formula for epic gridlock. They also were deployed last year for the visit of Pope Francis.
Authorities say the Islamic State group is trying to incite followers to rent trucks of their own to ram into crowds. In response, the NYPD has stayed in touch with rental companies and urged them to report anything suspicious.
Paperwork filed on Monday in a federal case was yet another reminder of the truck threat. It quoted the man charged with seeking to join the terror group saying it wanted someone to commandeer a garbage truck for a “Times Square operation.”