NEW YORK – President Barack Obama met Thursday with police officers who responded to the attempted car-bombing of Times Square, greeting them at the New York Police Department's high-tech Real Time Crime Center.
"Look, I know folks are busy, but I just wanted to come by and say thank you," Obama said. "The work that NYPD does in coordination with state, local, federal officials when it comes to counterterrorism is a model. It has been for some time ... I don't think I need to tell you that given the potential for attack everywhere in the country, we've got a lot to learn from what is taking place here."
Obama stood in front of a massive screen with images of Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-born U.S. citizen accused of trying to detonate a car bomb on May 1 near a busy strip of restaurants and a Broadway theater showing "The Lion King." The center's screens also ticked off tips and showed other investigations going on Thursday afternoon.
The center opened in 2005 as a clearing house for information. Tips reported by the public are funneled through the center, which also searches for clues that are then handed back to officers in the field. The center uses satellite imaging and computerized mapping systems to identify geographic patterns of crimes and to pinpoint possible addresses where suspects might flee — information relayed to investigators on the street via phone or wireless laptop computer.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg greeted the president at the center, located at police headquarters in lower Manhattan.
Kelly and the commanding officer of the Real Time Crime Center, Inspector Kenneth Mekeel, gave Obama the run-down on how the information system works. Just before the president arrived, a call of a suspicious van came in, and investigators at the center looked up license plate information as the bomb squad quickly responded and determined it was not a threat.
"We are a well-oiled machine," said Mark Torre, commanding officer of the city's bomb squad.
Torre said the units work together with the crime center to investigate faster — as with the case of Shahzad, who was arrested 53 hours after the failed bombing attempt.
Shahzad, a budget analyst who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., has been charged with terrorism counts, and federal officials say he has been cooperating with investigators. A cousin of Shahzad's father has called Shahzad's detention "a conspiracy."
Other police officers who were an integral part of the emergency response and investigation into the failed car bomb, which didn't injure anyone, met the president and got to shake his hand. They said they were proud.
"It was a pleasure," said Lt. Wayne Rhatigan, the mounted officer who was first alerted by street vendors to the smoking SUV and started evacuating the area.
It's the first time a U.S. president has visited the center, Kelly said.
After Obama thanked the officers, Kelly handed him a black police jacket with gold block letters reading NYPD on the back and POTUS, for president of the United States, on the right chest. Obama took off his suit coat and put on the jacket.
"Look at that, it says POTUS here," Obama said. "I'm official here."