Nearly Six Years Later, Barriers Remain 'Cemented'
It was a precaution taken at a time when no measure seemed unreasonable, but nearly six years later, the NYPD might be reconsidering as some community members continue to grumble.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, about 50 concrete blocks - 3 feet square and weighing about 2 tons each - were placed around the 100 Precinct stationhouse in Rockaway Beach. It was happening all around the city: barriers made of concrete and metal, some disguised as planters, others made by sinking heavy metal pipe into the ground, popped up around dozens of possible truck or car bomb targets.
Most of the dull gray blocks around the stationhouse, which are said to have come locally from Quadrozzi Concrete Corporation, were placed along a median between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Rockaway Freeway, to protect a fuel pump nestled alongside the precinct. But as the sense of danger that seemed imminent as news of the attacks was breaking started to fade in the public's consciousness, what was once seen as a barrier to protect the heroes of New York's Finest turned into just another Rockaway eyesore; an ugly reminder of how the city, its residents and even its safekeepers, had felt very much under siege - and that the threat of another terrorist attack remains.
The Rockaway Beach Civic Association was first to go on record, asking the NYPD about two years ago if the blocks could be either removed or beautified. The association's president, Dolores Orr, has described them to The Wave as both "absolutely ugly" and mostly useless.
The latter accusation is based on the fact that there's a wide separation in the blocks - wide enough for any street-legal vehicle to pass though - adjacent to the fuel pumps they're there to protect. There has also been a degree of grumbling over the NYPD's use of the blocks to close off a small section of Beach 94 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Rockaway Freeway, which in effect creates a parking lot for police vehicles. Orr says the police used security concerns to close the street without "due process."
The proposed remedy, which is now supported by the community board as well, was to use wood to convert the blocks into planters. The concrete blocks "look very industrial, and it's a [street] that is a gateway to the community," said Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska. Precinct commanders have maintained that the blocks are still necessary and questioned who would pay for the planter project.
Last year, The New York Times reported that the trend, at least in Manhattan, is that similar barriers erected in the days after September 11th were being removed in large numbers. "After evaluations by the New York Police Department, the city's Department of Transportation has demanded that many of the planters and concrete traffic medians known as jersey barriers be taken away," the paper reported.
"In recent years, counterterrorism experts have concluded that a poorly anchored planter, struck hard enough by explosive force or a speeding vehicle could become, to use police jargon, "weaponized": it could shatter into deadly shards or go flying." The story quoted a former NYPD commissioner who said that, while keeping a focus on security, "you can come up with a better scheme that at least if not aesthetically pleasing, is not offensive." The city's then-DOT-commissioner, Iris Weinshall said, "Whenever possible, we want to avoid the appearance that the city is under siege or unwelcoming."
Yet the 100 Precinct, which recently underwent an extensive renovation of its façade and other architectural elements to restore its historic splendor, remains blocked up, but perhaps not for much longer. An NYPD source familiar with the issue told The Wave this week that Captain Charles Neacy, the commanding officer of the precinct for the last two years, recently requested that the blocks be removed. The office of Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, which officially handles all NYPD media inquiries, did not respond to this newspaper's request for confirmation or a comment for this story.
Orr and Gaska were quick to point out, in separate interviews, that they are not safety or counterterrorism experts. Orr was, however, pleased at the unofficial word that the blocks' days are numbered. The issue is likely to come up when the 100 Precinct Community Council meets for the first time following its summer hiatus. Neacy is expected to brief council and community members on any issues from the beach season as well as any others that are ongoing. The community council will meet on September 26 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 333 Beach 90 Street, at 7:30 p.m.