News & Opinion | August 31, 2017 1:37 pm

Why is There an Armed Counterterrorism Force Patrolling the Hamptons?

Local police chief worries terrorists or the 'ultra-right' might try to attack area's wealthy elite.

Recently, a heavily armed police force has arrived in the Hamptons, Bloomberg writes.

Susan Lehman, a former staff member at The New York Times, told Joe Nocera, of Bloomberg, that while driving in to the Hamptons, it was “impossible not to notice two figures with the word POLICE emblazoned in white on their spruce black costumes, and very noticeable automatic weapons in their hands.”

Southhampton, New York is home to about 55,000 year-round residents and is known as a “summer playground” for the rich and famous. And now, Bloomberg writes, it has its “very own counterterrorism squad.” The militarized police force was first sighted in April during the Bridgehampton Half Marathon. They were wearing bulletproof vets and carrying fully loaded AR-15s.

Why the need for such heavily armed police force in such a relatively small and sleepy enclave? Southampton’s police chief, Steven Skrynecki, said that though there has been no threats, he felt it necessary to increase security because so many Hampton events attract wealthy celebrities and because of the terrorist incidents on the rise in many Western countries. Also he said the force was necessary in case the “ultra right” decided to attack his town’s wealthy elite.

Nocera identified a different reason: “militarization fever, a disease that too many of his fellow police chiefs have also come down with.” Nocera writes that this phenomenon will likely spread now that President Donald Trump has announced he will restart a program that provides local police forces access to surplus military equipment.

This militarization trend began right after the September 11 attacks. Many local police departments added “fighting terror” to their mission statements, and the federal government made armored vehicles, crowd control equipment, and heavy weaponry available for local police to buy, explains Bloomberg. 

Nocera notes that there are reasonable places to have this type of advanced security equipment: Fifth Ave around Trump Tower, for example. However, he notes that most experts he spoke to think these measures are counterproductive because it means “15 members of the Southampton counterterrorism unit weren’t doing more productive policing.”

Skrynecki defended the decision to Nocera because of the “lone wolves and the dark web, where bad guys could communicate without being observed by intelligence agents.” He referenced the recent terror attacks in Nice and Barcelona, saying that the crowds in Southhampton can be just as large as those.