Only on PIX11: NYPD counter-terrorism czar took team to Paris, post-Charlie Hebdo

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ONE POLICE PLAZA, New York (PIX11) - Like the rest of us, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Counter-Terrorism, John Miller, watched the January 7th unfolding of the Charlie Hebdo shooting attacks in Paris on television.  A former TV reporter himself, Miller noted on that day the “precision” of the assault on the satirical newsmagazine’s staff.  The gunmen were two brothers who had been known to counter-terrorism police in Paris.

By the time a three-day terror spree was over in France, three police officers were among the 16 dead, along with many on the cartoon and editorial staff at Charlie Hebdo—and four people at a Jewish market.  Miller knew this was another, defining moment in the war on terrorism and knew he needed to learn more.  “We wanted to examine it, minute by minute,” Miller told PIX 11 Investigates at his NYPD command center this week.  “The bad guys.  What was their plan?” So Miller made his own plan:  get a team from New York and Los Angeles to meet with their counterparts in Paris.

In the middle of March, Miller flew the team over to Paris.  It included his counterpart from Los Angeles, Chief Mike Downing from the LAPD.  Miller had served in Los Angeles with William Bratton, now New York City’s Police Commissioner, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The team also included members of the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit and reps from the Detective Bureau’s hostage negotiation team. They met with the Police Commissioner of Paris and officers working on the BRI—the Parisian equivalent of our ESU squad.

“This is a new kind of offender,” Miller observed of the shooters in Paris—and the others who have attacked a museum full of tourists in Tunisia—and Thursday’s terrorists who attacked a college campus in Kenya.

“It’s not the terrorist who runs into the location, strikes, and then runs.”  Regarding Paris, Miller pointed out, “They advance on the police officers firing with superior firepower.  AK-47’s.”  Miller also talked about what the Charlie Hebdo shooters did next, after finding one French officer wounded on the sidewalk outside.  “They go out of their way to go back and take his life.”

“How do we better hone the response, to interrupt the killing at the earliest stage?” he said.

Improving response time to a phenomenon Miller calls “the active shooter” was certainly one priority in his mission to Paris.  He said the French ordeal resonated with him, because “the targets were a media location and a Jewish location” and “We are the media capital of the world.  That’s going to be a concern.”  Miller went on to remind PIX that we have no shortage of Jewish landmarks here in New York.

NYPD Commissioner Bratton has already announced he would like to enhance the Critical Incident Response Vehicle unit that can be seen in convoys traveling through the city on a daily basis.  Right now, each precinct, along with housing police and transit districts, donate one vehicle a day to the CRV program.  Bratton wants to make it a “permanent” force—with more officers trained to carry heavier weapons.  The NYPD already has more than 400 SWAT officers that are proficient in tactical skills and carry impressive artillery.  “They don’t stay at some headquarters,” Miller said, “waiting to be called out.  They’re actually out there, on patrol, with the radio on.”

Miller took PIX 11 Investigates to the Joint Command Center at One Police Plaza that handles every big crisis and every big event in New York City.  NYPD Operations staff are here 24/7—keeping track of the seven thousand cameras that are installed at sensitive locations around the city, many of them in lower Manhattan in the financial district and midtown.  There’s also a monitor that shows flights coming in and out of New York air space.

“If there’s breaking news about a plane that’s gone off track or disappeared or suddenly charged direction, you’re able to track its progress on that map,” Miller told PIX 11.  “Where’s it going? Is it heading this way or that way?”

The Deputy Commissioner told us the Charlie Hebdo attacks also reinforced another, important part of counterterrorism work:  the need to keep track of “persons of interest” to the best of a department’s ability.

The Kouachi brothers who shot up Charlie Hebdo in Paris were known to the authorities several years before the assaults.

The Tsarnaev brothers who planted deadly bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013 were also known to law enforcement in the years before the attack.

Miller said his teams need to continue to take heed of that.  “Who’s been on the radar before who may deserve a second look?  If they were doing something 2 ½ years ago, where are they now?”