How NYPD’s Hercules team serves as a model for counterterrorism

The NYPD Hercules team’s message is that NYC is not an easy target

Classical mythology tells of a hero to the Greeks known as Hercules — the son of Zeus. Hercules is famous for his strength and for his numerous adventures. 

In New York, the heroes responsible for preventing and responding to 21st Century terrorism bear the same name as the Greek mythological hero — and for good reason. 

Hercules in New York
The brainchild of New York’s city’s police commissioner (at the time), Ray Kelly, and his plan to thwart terrorism, the NYPD Hercules team is part of the NYPD's counterterrorism bureau. The Hercules unit is an elite, heavily armed, semi-tactical police unit that appears out of thin air on a daily basis around the city. This unit can be found at the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, or the stock exchange — wherever the day's intelligence reports suggest they could be needed. 

NYPD's Hercules team patrols the parade route at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
NYPD's Hercules team patrols the parade route at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (AP Image)

These small teams arrive in unmarked vehicles, sheathed in armor-plated vests, carrying submachine guns. The Hercules team also can summon air and sea support. The purpose of the  team is to intimidate and to very publicly mount a show of force, as well as provide an immediate effective fighting force if challenged by terrorists. Commissioner Kelly knows that terrorists do a lot of reconnaissance of their intended targets, and the Hercules teams are designed to disrupt their planning. The team’s message is that NYC is not an easy target, and they stand guard with an overwhelming amount of presence and capability. 

In 2008, after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, Commissioner Kelly deemed it necessary to have a larger number of NYPD personnel trained in urban assault tactics. The Emergency Service Units (NYPD’s SWAT) would need additional help if there were concurrent, multi-cell attacks at several different locations within the city. Commissioner Kelly and his command staff at the NYPD are leaders in developing and implementing a modern-day combat fighting force with the ability to be highly effective in the event of a coordinated attack. 

Anytown, USA
The attacks in Paris reaffirm the threat that faces America. The threat of a multi-cell, coordinated attack occurring simultaneously within  any city in the USA is highly probable. What has your agency done to prepare you and the department’s response to such an event? Who says a similar attack won’t happen in a typical U.S. suburb? Perhaps a multi-coordinated attack might occur on a large suburban mall, movie theater, and hospital in a more rural area where the police resources aren’t as numerous as in the NYPD. The fact is, most police agencies don’t have the resources and man power that the NYPD has, but that doesn’t mean that agencies can’t respond as an effective fighting force.  

The recent attacks in Paris is a message to law enforcement: all American cops should be prepared for combat that includes the use of grenades, smoke, diversion tactics, and an adversary that shows a willingness to hide behind or take hostages and die for his or her cause. These attacks also  underscored the need for law enforcement agencies to engage the terrorist immediately. 

These terrorists are committed to dying and will murder more and more victims as each minute passes. Hesitation by the first responding units equals more victims. Immediate action can prevent the terrorist from grabbing hostages and taking a stronghold. These terrorists have also shown cowardice when faced with head-to-head combat with police, as they often commit suicide. Therefore, the quicker police officers push towards the enemy, the sooner the event ends.

Training and Equipment
Credible terrorism response requires training that develops the agency’s ability to deploy its officers in small squads of two to six, move in a bounding-overwatch manner, communicate entry points into the stronghold, seek and destroy,, effect evacuation tactics, and provide mass casualty triage and first aid. Late arriving officers must be trained to know when to contain the objective.

Serious cops willing to effectively combat a terrorist already know that they must have a primary weapon (.223 or shotgun) with 300 rounds of ammunition, secondary weapon (pistol) with 150 rounds, tactical first aid kit, door wedges, rescue tether, and pocket mirror or selfie stick for a cell phone on every patrol. 

Agencies serious about keeping their cops safe and effective will provide their officers with a Kevlar helmet, plate carrier vest, flash bangs, smoke for diversions and movements, and ballistic shields. All of these items will require additional training. 

Like the NYPD Hercules team — who subdue and destroy monsters just as the Greek hero they’re named after did — law enforcement across the nation must develop and implement a modern-day combat fighting force with the ability to be highly effective in the event of a coordinated attack. 

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