(AP Photo )
NEW YORK (CBS/AP) When New York police received a report of a suspicious van with tinted windows, no license plates and a bogus law enforcement placard parked in the heart of Times Square just one day before the New Year's celebration, they took no chances, evacuating thousands of tourists from the area and warning the occupants of surrounding buildings.
(AP Photo )
Photo: Suspicious van in Times Square Dec. 30, 2009.
Patrol officers spotted the van Dec. 30 around 11 a.m. on Broadway between 41st and 42nd streets, a tarp partially covered the van, and a placard in the window said "detective's crime clinic, Metropolitan New Jersey and New York," a nonexistent law enforcement agency.
Shouting and putting up metal and wood barricades, police began clearing several blocks, directing thousands of Times Square tourists to move south and west. Counterterrorism and bomb squad crews responded and a robot was used to examine the vehicle. Officers then approached on foot and peered in the windows.
The van was opened and clothing was discovered inside, along with a temporary registration. Police are looking for the van's owner.
Stephanie Gonzalez, who works in the glass-walled tower directly in front of where the van was parked, said announcements were made around 11 a.m. that people should head to the west side of the building, away from the vehicle. She left the building entirely.
"Post-9/11, you're just not going to stick around to figure it out," she said.
Paul J. Browne, chief NYPD spokesman, said there were no corresponding terror threats involving the vehicle but said the department takes extra precautions around New Year's Eve when hundreds of thousands of revelers from around the world are drawn to the heart of Times Square to watch the ball drop at midnight.
Hours after the scare, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood outside the NASDAQ building, down the street from where the van had been parked, and declared the city safe for the festivities.
"Somebody thought it was suspicious. They called. We checked it out. It turned out not to be anything bad," he said. "We take every threat or every potential threat seriously."
Hundreds of thousands of revelers are expected to huddle together in Times Square in near freezing temperatures to welcome in the New Year.
Among those scheduled to entertain them are Jennifer Lopez, the cast of the Broadway musical "Hair" and Daughtry.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 12 city high school students are in charge of pushing the button to lower the big Waterford Crystal ball. Then confetti will rain down to mark the start of 2010.