Calls to 911 for suspicious packages have surged since the bombings in New York and New Jersey over the weekend as authorities and public leaders simultaneously try to soothe a jittery public and urge them to remain vigilant.
After the explosion in Chelsea Saturday night, the NYPD got over 400 calls for suspicious packages in under 48 hours, according to police. On a typical day, police log about 90 to 100 suspicious package calls, according to The Daily News.
Authorities have been pressing people to contact police at any hint of suspicious activity, highlighting bystanders' roles in finding two undetonated bombs allegedly planted by 28-year-old Ahmad Rahami over the weekend -- one in Chelsea, not far from the blast site, and another near a NJ Transit station in Elizabeth, New Jersey. And the New Jersey bar owner who found the suspect sleeping in the doorway of his Linden bar was also credited for being vigilant and contacting police right away.
"At any given point, New Yorkers may find a piece of information, hear a conversation, see something that could very much aid the NYPD, the FBI and our partners. I want all New Yorkers to be vigilant and to provide that information as they get it at any given point in time," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, visiting the site of the Chelsea explosion Tuesday, reiterated as much: "It's important to stress again, if you see something, say something. That's more than a slogan. Public vigilance can make a difference and does make a difference."
The public has taken heed: on Tuesday alone, at least four suspicious sightings across Manhattan -- including on Avenue A in the East Village, on East 55th Street and 2nd Avenue, on East 33rd Street and Lexington Avenue, and on Crosby Street near Spring in SoHo -- were all unfounded.
Craig Roth was one of the people affected when police responded to his workplace near East 55th Street.
"The police made us stay in there, and after an hour, you start to get scared," he said.
In the end, it turned out to be a homeless person's sleeping bag.
In SoHo, the investigation into a backpack left on Crosby Street shut down roads and caused the 6, N and R subways to bypass the Spring and Prince street stations in the area. The bomb squad determined the package was harmless, and police reopened streets shortly afterward, the NYPD's 5th Precinct tweeted.
On Monday, suspicious package calls also brought police to the Weehawken Ferry Terminal and other locations in New York and New Jersey.
Former FBI agent and security expert Manny Gomez, owner of MG Security Services, said the same thing happened in the weeks after 9/11.
"People are having a knee-jerk reaction to what happened Saturday night," he said.
And even if the items don't turn out to be legitimate and the calls risk temporary public disruption, people should keep calling, he said.
"Don't feel like it's something wrong. Address your call responsibly," he said.
Sal Lifrieri, New York's former director of security, said Monday, "The reality is, law enforcement would rather come out to something and prove that nothing happened than to wait too late for something like this to occur."