Israel, standing at the entrance to the fort, recalled the shooting in Chattanooga, a shooting at Fort Hood in 2013, and a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in 2014.
“I don’t want to add Fort Totten to that list,” Israel said.
Israel has sent multiple letters in the past week to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asking that – as part of the Department of Defense security review – he consider increasing the amount of active security measures, including providing security guards at military reserve facilities.
Israel was joined at the press conference by Councilman Paul Vallone, Public Advocate Letitia James, president of Bay Terrace Community Alliance Warren Schreiber and McLaughlin Harris, the director of Fort Totten Operations.
“The horrible tragedy at the Navy Reserve Center in Chattanooga has highlighted the need to address security concerns at reserve centers across the nation,” said Vallone. “We need to ensure that those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us are in turn given the best protection we can provide.”
Fort Totten is a 128-acre site in northeastern Queens that’s complex to manage, according to Harris.
On a peninsula just east of the Throgs Neck Bridge, there are public recreation venues used on a daily basis, especially during the summer months, making the base difficult to secure.
“Fort Totten is a very complex site to manage from a security standpoint,” he said. “Complex because it’s probably the only government installation in the nation with a public park on its compound.”
The front gate, which is the only entrance to the park, is manned by light-duty firefighters who are not armed. Harris says it’s a safety concern.
“I have been against this move from day one, and I’m still against it today, but this decision is above my pay grade” Harris said. “We now have the opportunity this time to reverse this decision and make it right. We have to be proactive today, in this inspired ISIS home-grown terrorist world.
“Let’s bring back armed security guards to the front gate of Fort Totten, for we cannot afford to let our guard down anymore,” he added.
The gate was previously manned by armed guards, but they were cut in 2009, a decision made by the Bloomberg Administration due to fiscal constraints. Harris says the figures don’t actually add up, because it shifts the liability to the city, and the firefighters make more than the armed contracted security guards.
The call from officials on Monday however, appealed to the Department of Defense on a federal level, asking for the security measures across the country.
"As we continue to mourn the senseless tragedy in Chattanooga, the federal government must take steps to prevent an attack like this from happening again,” James said. “Our service men and women are willing to give everything for our liberty, and we must make sure they are safe from another heinous attack like this at home."