ONE POLICE PLAZA — Police investigators are looking for four or five people — possibly bridge or construction workers — who they believe replaced the red, white and blue American flags atop the Brooklyn Bridge Tuesday morning with stark white versions.
NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence John Miller said video surveillance on the bridge showed the group crossing the bridge about 3:10 a.m.
"Those people will be of particular interest in this investigation because at approximately 3:30 in the morning, several minutes later, the light that normally illuminates the American flag on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, flickers and then appears to go out," Miller said.
Police found aluminum baking pans covering the light and fastened with plastic zip-ties, he said. At 3:42 a.m. the light on the Manhattan-side tower was also blocked by an aluminum pan.
Construction workers who are part of a crew doing extensive repairs to the bridge at 5:30 a.m. were the first to notice the white flags flying where the American flag once flew, Miller said.
"The red, white and blue had appeared to be replaced by white flags," he said.
Miller said police took down two 20-by-11-foot flags that had the stars and stripes of a US flag, but were devoid of color.
Detectives were looking into where the flags came from and other evidence.
Miller said it is unclear if the flags were "commercial grade, commercially manufactured flag[s] that then w[ere] bleached or altered to be all white, or whether this was Betsy Ross' long-lost nephew doing extensive work to put something together this detailed. But there are two of them and we intend to exploit them for whatever evidence we can."
Because the suspects were able to navigate around a locked gate that blocks the walkway to the top of the towers and knew what size pan would block the lights, Miller said police believe that they might be bridge or construction workers — or at least been to the top of the towers before.
Police are also looking at social media to see if anyone claims responsibility for the act.
"At this time, it appears to have no particular nexus with terrorism or even politics," Miller said. "This may be somebody's art project or it may be an attempt at making some type of statement, but at this point it's not clear what that statement is."
If this was a prank, the humor is lost on the police commissioner.
"Needless to say, no matter what the motive was, it is a matter of concern. I am not particularly happy about the event," NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton said.
Police will likely bring charges of criminal mischief and trespassing against whomever they determine is responsible.
"We don't take these things lightly or as a joke or as art or within the realm of speech. These are issues of trespass. They put themselves in danger. They put others in danger and that's why we investigate it," Miller said.