The New York Police Department has ringed the building on New York’s 5th Avenue—where Donald Trump is said to be spending the day—with trucks full of sand. They’re lined up down the street, too, around the Peninsula Hotel where Hillary Clinton is reportedly camped. Her party will be held at the Javits Center on Manhattan’s west side later tonight; Trump’s at the Hilton in midtown, where dump trucks also stand guard. Police won’t comment, but experts say trucks can protect against car bombs and other attacks, and can help with crowd control in the event of protests.
More than that, the trucks are a symbol of how negative the campaign has been. “I’ve never seen a campaign in the US where these kinds of precautions were necessary,” says crowd security specialist Paul Wertheimer, who is 68.
The Peninsula Hotel. In Spuckweite des Trump Towers. Hier wird Hillary Clinton heute Abend ihre After-Party feiern… pic.twitter.com/grraVtSKGK
— Susann Remke (@SusannRemke) November 8, 2016
— Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) November 8, 2016
Dump trucks are common barricades for high-risk targets, because they’re inexpensive and easy to move. Authorities have deployed them several times throughout the presidential race, including the conventions and some debates. It marks a departure from previous election cycles. “Think about the contrast between this election night versus the election of Barack Obama in 2008, in which he attended an open air celebration in Chicago,” Wertheimer says. “Think of either of these candidates doing that in an any park in celebration of victory. That’s an interesting contrast of how far this election has fallen from traditional American elections in history. Both sides had some civility to now. Now we have dump trucks in front of buildings.”
Of course, the rancorous nature of the campaign isn’t the sole consideration here. In the years since Obama’s open-air party in 2008, ISIS has attacked public venues in Paris, Brussels, and other cities. Kyle Olsen, president of security firm Olsen Group, says the FBI has in recent days warned the FBI about potential “unspecified” election day terrorist plots. “Now that is unique to 2016,” he says.
The NYPD remains on high alert. Some of the added security—trucks, street closures, more cops on the street— is highly visible. Still other measures are hidden. These preparations are in addition to the city’s work curtailing traffic disruptions due to the candidates hosting parties in Manhattan. Wertheimer considers the proximity of those parties a potential point of “provocation” among Clinton and Trump supporters. “It’s as if you had a boxing match and both corners were right next to each other. There’s a reason you put boxers across from each other,” he says. If the loser concedes graciously, Wertheimer says, that could help prevent things getting out of hand. But Trump has repeatedly said he will only accept the results if he wins. And no matter what, law enforcement will be watching events in Manhattan closely for insights into how to plan for the inauguration.
“If everything is calm and peaceful tonight that looks good for the inauguration,” Wertheimer says. “I can tell you the D.C. police and the parks department are watching this tonight too because if there are problems that’s going to require a reassessment of what is generally a celebration. That’s the next big crowd event. It won’t end tomorrow.”
Calm and peace haven’t been a big part of the 2016 election. As one of the nastiest presidential campaigns in recent memory draws to a close, it seems only fitting to have dump trucks standing by. If only they could take on the vitriol and division of the past 18 months and dump them in a trash heap far, far away.