NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — American flags were once again flying on top of the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday afternoon, after someone replaced the flags sometime overnight with what appeared to be whitewashed or faded versions of Old Glory.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said police do not believe the incident was connected to any terror threat.
Miller said as of around 8:30 p.m. Monday, the American flags were still flying on the Brooklyn and Manhattan towers of the bridge. But around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, construction workers noticed the white flags had taken their place.
Surveillance video revealed that around 3:10 a.m., several people were seen crossing the bridge – four or five of them in a group. Several minutes later, the light that normally illuminates the American flag on the Brooklyn side of the bridge flickered and went out, Miller said.
About 12 minutes after that, the light on the Manhattan side of the bridge also went out, he said.
By 7:30 a.m. Monday, calls about the rogue flags were coming in to police. The bizarre sight turned plenty of heads.
“I saw it on the walk over, but I didn’t know what it was,” a woman said.
“It seems pretty, I don’t know, daring,” a man said.
When members of the Emergency Service Unit went to the top of the bridge later in the morning to document the scene, they found two 20-foot by 11-foot flags on each tower, which appeared to be American flags with stars and stripes that had been bleached white.
Police also found large aluminum pans that had been affixed with zip-ties to cover up the lights that normally illuminate the flags.
Emergency Services officers took down the rogue flags by 11 a.m. Crowds gathered on the bridge and nearby sidewalks to watch as the officers climbed the cables to take them down from the towers.
Miller said the flag replacement operation appears to have been pre-planned, since someone had to compromise a locked gate and know the size of the pan needed to cover the light.
He said someone with experience climbing in construction or bridge work also may have been involved, and the culprit may have scaled the bridge before.
Police said a number of people had access to the area in the past few weeks, including construction workers and even people associated with the Fourth of July fireworks earlier this month.
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As CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported, Miller also said someone scaled the bridge despite two police cars parked on either end of the span, and dozens of cameras monitored by the NYPD.
“We’re going to look at the camera coverage from both sides to the bridge, from approaches to the bridge, to determine – what number of people are we looking at? What are they carrying?” he said.
Miller said police do not believe the flags were intended to be a threat.
“It appears to have no particular connections to terrorism or even to politics,” Miller said. “This may be somebody’s art project or even a statement.”
But police Commissioner Bill Bratton said the matter was serious nonetheless.
“Needless to say, no matter what the motive was, that is a matter of concern,” Bratton said. “I am not particularly happy about the event, and have charged Commissioner Miller to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances.”
Miller emphasized that the white flag placement was not funny, and was not acceptable.
“We don’t take these things lightly, or as a joke, or as art, or within the realm of speech,” Miller said. “These are issues of trespass. They put themselves in danger. They put others in danger.”
Miller said there has been no credible claim of responsibility and no indication of a message to be communicated with the white flags – whether one of patriotism or one of protest, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.