MANHATTAN (PIX11) — Assistant Chief Martine Materasso joined the NYPD in 2000 and, a year later, the 9/11 terror attacks changed life the way we knew it.
In December 2019, Materasso was picked to lead the department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, just four months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced much of the city into lockdown. But her mission has never wavered.
“We’ve never lost focus here in the Counterterrorism Bureau,” Materasso told PIX11 News recently in the Joint Operations Center at police headquarters downtown. “We’re ready to move at any moment.”
All of the estimated 1,000 officers in the bureau are trained in the handling of long guns, a vital skill during a time when law enforcement around the world has been forced to confront active shooters.
The Critical Response Command (CRC) is one of the department’s “first lines of defense” against a terrorist-related attack, with the aim to “neutralize the threat as quickly as possible,” according to Materasso.
Her bureau oversees the Bomb Squad, contributes detectives to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, works with 50,000 cameras in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, and relies on a powerful tool called the Domain Awareness System (DAS), a program built by the NYPD and Microsoft to collect data from license plate readers, as well as other sources.
The cameras were hugely helpful during the April investigation of a mass shooting on the “N” train in Sunset Park, when 10 commuters were hit by gunfire.
“That morning, when that incident happened, it was all hands on deck,” Materasso recalled. “We wanted to identify that individual, see if he had a vehicle.”
The camera system discovered suspect Frank James, 62, had parked a rented U-Haul van in Gravesend, Brooklyn and entered the subway system there, after driving more than a hundred miles from Philadelphia.
James had left behind his credit card at the shooting scene. He was caught the next day on the Lower East Side. Investigators found he’d made all kinds of racist rants on his YouTube channel.
Materasso pointed out there are various reasons for the attacks her bureau responds to.
“They can be motivated by hate or mental illness,” she observed.
Others, like the 9/11 attacks, require sophisticated planning.
The only lethal terror attack in the 21 years since 9/11 happened on Halloween Day 2017, when Saifullo Saypov–who emigrated from Uzbekistan–allegedly mowed down and killed eight people with a rented Home Depot truck on West Street in lower Manhattan. Six of the victims were tourists. Saypov had professed his allegiance to the Islamic State–ISIS.
Materasso’s bureau works hand in hand with the NYPD Intelligence Division, which analyzes online threats 24/7.
“Someone can be radicalized overnight,” Materasso noted, “so we have to make sure we’re there within those chat rooms.”
The assistant chief invited PIX11 News on board one of three boats from her bureau that monitor New York Harbor. We rode on the vessel named for Detective Russel Timoshenko, who was slain while responding to a car robbery in 2007.
Detective Matthew Pecora was the boat’s pilot that day.
“There are certain things that we look for,” Pecora told PIX11 News.”It might be a critical infrastructure, meaning the bridges, bridge stanchions….or it could be container ships, cruise ships.”
Detective Daniel Hogan talked about the radiation detectors his team utilizes
“We look for sources of gamma and neutron radiation,” Hogan told us. “Gamma sources can be anything from naturally-occurring radiation.”
Hogan pointed out that neutron radiation is “a horse of a different color.”
“That’s where you’re talking about weaponized isotopes,” Hogan said. “Like a plutonium or uranium, things you would see in a nuclear bomb.”
Hogan said his team has never come across neutron radiation in their travels.
“We see gamma alerts all the time,” he said.
Assistant Chief Materasso and her team have been busy securing the perimeter of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the U.S. Open. She is already planning for 9/11 commemorations this Sunday, followed by the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in late September.
She said New York City remains a prime target for terrorists.
“Whether it’s the subway, a bridge or tunnel,I think the whole of New York City is the target,” Materasso said.