Officials: Upcoming Papal Visit to NYC ‘Largest Security Challenge Ever' for NYPD

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says Pope Francis' upcoming visit to New York City during the United Nations General Assembly, when 90 percent of the world leaders will be in the city at the same time, is going to be "the largest security challenge the department and this city have ever faced."  

Bratton said the NYPD, working in partnership with federal law enforcement and multiple other agencies, is prepared for the challenge and that "we'll have a safe event for all those who are coming." 

"We have the finest police force anywhere in this nation, anywhere in this world," added Mayor Bill de Blasio. "This police force has seen it all and is ready for it all." 

Officials said thousands of officers, from the local to federal levels and including the Secret Service, will be deployed for both the papal visit and the General Assembly, and surveillance technology will be used, including cameras and explosives and radiation detection devices, as well as traditional K-9 units.

Officials said they're confident that all the security measures will help make for a special moment not only for the millions of Catholics in New York City and the general metropolitan area but for the millions others moved by Pope Francis' example as a leader and as a voice of conscience.

"There is something about Pope Francis that is uplifting to all of us, I believe, and encouraging to all of us and speaks to the possibilities that humanity can reach," said de Blasio. "To have him here in the place that still in many ways defines the center stage of the earth is, I think, going to be powerful, it's going to inspiring, it's going to exciting." 

Earlier, Bratton, de Blasio, and representatives from agencies including the U.S. Secret Service and the Office of Emergency Management held a roundtable discussion Monday to review security measures for Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the Big Apple. 

The officials held what they called a "multi-agency coordination group tabletop exercise" for the papal visit, which is Sept. 24 to 26, to review strategy for an array of possible security scenarios. 

The city has already announced a thorough list of street closures and traffic changes, as well as a list of prohibited items for papal events that includes selfie sticks, balloons and bicycles, among other items.

Authorities have to figure out not only how to deal with the crush of visitors to a pope who likes to get close to people but doing so amid the United Nations General Assembly with 170 world leaders in town.

The pope's motorcade will also ride through Central Park so tens of thousands more people can get a chance to see him. He has planned stops at St. Patrick's Cathedral for prayer service, the 9/11 memorial and Madison Square Garden for mass as well.

Thousands of people at any time could be trying to catch a glimpse of the pope, and the visit in late September comes as the city braces for gridlock with 170 world leaders in town for the annual U.N. conference. It's on track to be the most widely attended General Assembly, according to an FBI official, and President Obama will coming into town for the conference just as the pope is leaving. 

Around the same time, the Global Citizen Festival headlined by Beyonce, Pearl Jam, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran will be taking place in Central Park on Saturday, Sept. 26, which hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend. There are also some baseball games taking place in the city around the same time as the papal visit and during the General Assembly. 

"While all this unprecedented effort is underway, New Yorkers can be assured that the usual level of safety we achieve in this city and the extraordinary efforts made every day to keep New Yorkers safe in every neighborhood will continue at the same time," said de Blasio. 

Police have warned New Yorkers to expect extraordinary gridlock on the streets. There will be extra trains put into service on the subway but access to some stations could be limited or even closed.

With the general terror threat environment a concern, there will be more vehicle checkpoints, more uniformed officers deployed across the city and additional security measures that won't necessarily be visible.

Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. will also include stops in Washington and Philadelphia.

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