Greater Greater Washington

Transit


WMATA bag searches make transit less safe, not more

This morning, the Metro Transit Police began conducting the system's first random bag checks. These inspections are couched in the language of security, but they actually make the system less safe.


Photo by cyberenviro.org on Flickr.

Passengers boarding during the morning rush at Braddock Road and College Park faced these screenings. The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock reported that one man's check took 8 minutes, and yet nothing threatening was found.

People have been objecting to these random bag checks on a variety of grounds. The ACLU says that they infringe on civil liberties. Dr. Gridlock disputed the argument that they are a "necessary evil," writing that "To be a necessary evil, a thing must be both necessary and evil," and that this policy is only the latter, not the former. Even Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton thinks they're ineffective.

The WMATA Riders Advisory Council will be holding a meeting on this policy on January 3rd, 6:30 pm at WMATA HQ, where you can voice your opinions.

Regardless of how you feel about personal liberties or the Fourth Amendment, there are several reasons you should oppose these screenings. Any one of these should be enough to give you pause.

The bag checks do nothing to secure the Metro system. If this morning is any indication of Metro's plans for screenings, they'll take place only at a few stations at any given time, probably less than 5 of Metro's 86 stations. They may even be restricted to rush hours. This morning's checks appear to have ended by 8:45, according to news reports.

Most importantly, anyone can refuse the checks and still be allowed to board a train or bus. If you don't want to be screened for whatever reason, all you have to do is tell the officer that you don't want to be screened. You won't be permitted to enter that station with your bag, but you will be permitted to enter the system elsewhere.

At a place like Vienna, that might be a challenge for a terrorist without a car. But at any of the downtown stations, or in other close-in neighborhoods, it's a short walk to another station. And Metrobuses tend to provide a link between stations, as well.

One could easily conceive of a terrorist deciding not to be screened at a station like Farragut North simply walking to Farragut West and boarding a train there.

Or to think of it another way, imagine that prior to September 11, there was no airport security. Afterwards, they put security in place at Boston Logan, Newark, and Washington Dulles only. It would still be easy for a terrorist to hijack a plane. All they'd need to do is start their journey from a different airport. Metro's permeable and brief security barriers will do nothing to stop even a moderately determined terrorist.

They're easy to avoid. Because these checks are considered outrageous by many people and because of the prevalence of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, it's easy to determine ahead of time where these checks are happening.

A terrorist could easily check Twitter (as UnsuckDCMetro pointed out this morning), as can anyone else wishing to avoid the hassle.

They draw resources from real crime prevention. The Metro Transit Police Department is an asset to this region. I respect their officers for what they do to keep Metro safe.

But they have limited resources. The MTPD has only 423 sworn officers, certainly a small force for an agency spread across 3 "states", 86 stations, and hundreds of miles of bus lines.

Metro is not increasing the size of the Police Department as a part of these random bag checks. And that means that officers that otherwise would have been riding trains and buses, circling parking lots, or walking platforms are being pulled away from those duties.

There have been some high-profile crimes on Metro lately. In August, a brawl erupted at L'Enfant Plaza that injured 4, and reportedly involved 70 people. Metro Police officers were able to respond from Gallery Place, probably because the agency stations extra cops there to deal with unruly teenagers. What would have happened, however, if those officers had been assigned to Dupont Circle to do random bag checks?

Are these checks worth it if even one old lady gets mugged because an officer who otherwise would have been on her train was scanning bags elsewhere? How many iPhone thefts is this security theater worth? How many teenage brawls?

We already know that MTPD response times are poor. Putting officers behind security checkpoints will only exacerbate that problem.

And that seems to be the case even if TSA personnel are stationed at the checkpoints, since it appears that Metro Transit officers will always be present at the bag checks, too.

The searches decrease the utility of transit. Traveling on Metro is not always easy. All too early in the evenings, train frequencies drop precipitously. Riders who have to transfer often spend more time standing around on platforms than they do riding on trains.

These bag checks mean that riders have to add more time into their schedules. While the checks can take at least 8 minutes, even a shorter one can mean missing a train. And if they're only coming every 20 minutes, that is a significant delay to a rider. If it makes them miss the train which would connect with their hourly bus, it's even worse.

These checks make riding transit less attractive for those who choose to take Metro. And it makes it less convenient for everyone, especially those who have no alternatives.

And that probably means that some people are going to get pushed into other modes, like driving. Lost revenue for Metro is bad, but worse is increased traffic on the Beltway, more pollution in our neighborhoods, and an increasing number of car crashes.

Metro's fare increases have already driven transit ridership down, especially for short trips, where Capital Bikeshare, walking, Metrobuses, or taxis are increasingly taking up the slack. These bag checks give riders one more reason to abandon the system.

The checks could open WMATA up to lawsuits. While similar checks undertaken by the New York City MTA were upheld by the Second Circuit in MacWade v. Kelly, that does not immunize WMATA from lawsuits.

Metro operates in the Fourth Circuit and the DC Circuit. These checks are not a part of settled case law here, and it is very likely that someone who objects to these searches will sue WMATA.

And even if those circuits uphold the searches as in MacWade, there are other grounds for lawsuits. For instance, how does Metro inform riders that they can decline the search? If they do not, does that trigger a Fourth Amendment violation?

If the Transit Police are not informing each searchee that they can decline and if the searchee does not fully understand that, it would seem to bring up circumstances similar to those adjudicated in Miranda v. Arizona.

Regardless, for no apparent security benefit, WMATA would appear to be welcoming a court challenge. And as a taxpayer and daily rider, I find that troubling.

They infringe upon privacy rights. Americans are sensitive about their privacy. As well they should be. These checks do nothing to secure our transportation network, and yet they significantly infringe upon our right to privacy.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. These searches are far from reasonable, for the variety of reasons listed here.

Random inspections are often ineffective. And even if a terrorist went to a station that was being checked, he or she might not even get selected for screening.

Truly random screening means that the vast majority of those screened are innocent commuters. And those that look or act suspicious are not necessarily screened.

Profiling like that seems to violate case law in the Second Circuit. While WMATA is not located in the Second Circuit, the only place these checks have been tested is there, and WMATA has cited that case as justification.

In New York's MacWade decision, the Second Circuit held that in order for the checks to be constitutional, they had to meet several conditions. One of those was that "police exercise no discretion in selecting whom to search, but rather employ a formula that ensures they do not arbitrarily exercise their authority" [emphasis mine].

That means that this approach checks hundreds of innocents and does not ensure that even suspicious individuals will get checked. That doesn't sound like a good approach to safety.

Of course, officers can already search someone based on probable cause, but they don't need checkpoints to do that. And using checkpoints to generate probable cause would seem to violate the spirit and letter of MacWade.

They create false perceptions in the traveling public. These searches create two false perceptions in riders, though not both in the same rider.

On the one hand, the mere fact that screenings are taking place creates an atmosphere of threat. It reminds people that they need to be suspicious and afraid. After all, a terrorist could be lurking just behind the next platform pylon.

But on the other hand, they also generate a false sense of security. Why should a rider be alert if people are screened before entering? Unfortunately, the ineffectiveness of this security measure means that transit riders are really no more secure than they were before the checks.

Treating customers with suspicion is not the way to win their patronage. As noted earlier, close to all of those being screened are going to be regular, innocent riders. Treating them like potential terrorists is insulting and inconvenient. And it's unlikely to encourage them to ride transit again.

They show poor resource planning. The planning profession is often associated with urban planning, but it's actually a much larger field. And it includes strategic and resource planning.

Planners are taught to use the Rational Planning Model to evaluate policy.

Essentially the model works like this:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Generate solutions
  3. Generate objective assessment criteria
  4. Choose the best alternative
  5. Implement chosen alternative
  6. Continuously evaluate outcomes and repeat model as necessary
It's clear that the bag check policy was not subjected to that model.

Terrorism is a real threat. And it is a problem that needs to be addressed. But looking carefully at the approach which has been taken shows that it is riddled with holes, fails to address the core issues, and generates unintended consequences which may be larger threats to the agency than the original problem.

Metro and the Transit Police Department need to cease this program of bag checks immediately. They have angered the public, inconvenienced riders, and failed to solve or even reduce the terrorism problem.

These random bag checks make riding transit less safe. And as long as Metro wastes resources this way, it will continue to exhibit its general inability to deal effectively with the real problems of the agency.

You can speak up at the Riders' Advisory Council meeting on Monday, January 3. It's at 6:30 pm in the committee room at WMATA HQ, 600 5th Street, NW, left and then right after security. Any rider can speak, and the RAC has reached out to MTPD to see if someone can make a presentation and answer questions.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

Comments

Add a comment »

Whatever Michael Tabon was on when he decided that this would be a good policy, I'll take some in a feeble attempt to understand WMATA.

by Jason on Dec 21, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

Bravo.

by Josh S on Dec 21, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

Amen.

by ChrisB on Dec 21, 2010 3:45 pm • linkreport

I oppose these searches, but one part of your post is just silly:

For instance, how does Metro inform riders that they can decline the search? If they do not, does that trigger a Fourth Amendment violation? If the Transit Police are not informing each searchee that they can decline and if the searchee does not fully understand that, it would seem to bring up circumstances similar to those adjudicated in Miranda v. Arizona.

The Sixth Amendment is different. There is absolutely no requirement under the Fourth Amendment that a person be advised of the right to refuse consent. Un-warned consent searches have been upheld unanimously in the federal courts.

On a separate note, if I do refuse a search, I'm supposedly barred from that station, right? For how long: 30 minutes? An hour? All day? And what are the consequences if I go to another entrance at the station? A trespassing charge?

by eck on Dec 21, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

@eck:
I apologize for not making this clearer. This post was already a long one.

In MacWade, the court ruled that the searches must be consensual. Given that, if someone is not made aware that they have the ability to decline, it would seem to bring up circumstances similar to those in Miranda.

by Matt Johnson on Dec 21, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

I'm unsure why this would have been implemented in the first place. This is amazingly dumb. I wonder if the hassles of "security" are worth living in the dc area

by Allan on Dec 21, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

Dodging the issue at hand, I do want to focus on the line "prior to September 11, there was no airport security".

There was certainly security well before then- as far back as my memory goes (to clarify: that's the 80's), I recall passing through metal detectors & putting my luggage through the x-ray scanners. I even have a traumatic memory of my plastic praying mantis toy getting stuck in the rollers of an x-ray machine; it's little face staring back at me as a toy pet's cry for help. This same screening was in place even at the small municipal airports.

Granted, things were a bit different... after passing through security at LNS, for example, one was free to roam about the tarmac up until sometime in the early 90's or so. And of course I think it was 9/11 which put an end to people without boarding passes being permitted past security... I recall before then I used to fly often on my own with family right at the gate to receive me. It was also 9/11 which created the fluid-like list of the ever-changing cacophony of restricted items... I think before then it was the standard firearms, incendiaries, and blades.

Although one loophole (which I believe some airports still have) is that some extremely small airfields and private airstrips don't have any checks... and if departing from an airport like that: some receiving airports aren't configured to recheck such flights that come in. So in some cases you can transfer to another flight without being run through security.

Furthermore, there are still some airports (including major ones) which don't have properly secured doors/corridors as to restrict people from getting into the terminals without going past security. I've found two so far, and I only frequent perhaps a dozen or so total airports.

by Bossi on Dec 21, 2010 4:03 pm • linkreport

@thisisbossi:
Or to think of it another way, imagine that prior to September 11, there was no airport security.

It was an example to get people to think of it outside of the context of Metro. Yes. There was airport security prior to September 11. And they increased it afterwards at far more than the 3 airports where the terrorists departed.

by Matt Johnson on Dec 21, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

@Matt I'm in a agreement with what you have said above, but I have to agree with @eck on the Miranda point. From the Court's prospective, everyone is on notice that they don't have to consent to being searched, but that means not getting on the train. Consider flying -- no one expects TSA agents to inform passengers that they have the right to decline a search. Of course, if someone does decline, they will be turned away. I think you're being too "literal" with the term consent.

I just moved here from NYC where I often ran into the checks. Never heard about them in advance via news or social networking. I have a feeling that these checks will stop being "newsworthy" items here as well.

For what it's worth, these checks are a waste of time. Putting on my lawyer hat, I personally think that these checks are constitutional, but I don't think they are necessary. I'm more afraid of getting jumped while riding the subway and entering/exiting a station -- would much prefer that police focus their resources on fighting those crimes. Plus, how can they "see something" if they're wiping down an old lady's purse?

by JayCee on Dec 21, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

I can't figure out why anyone thinks the bag checks are a good idea. I'm generally willing to give up a little bit of freedom in return for more safety. But that's not what this policy does: this policy gives up some freedom and makes us less safe, because it's useless and it pulls police away from doing things that actually make Metro safer.

by Rob on Dec 21, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

With all the new openings on the WMATA board, can this become an issue in who can be appointed? Obviously, there are other concerns with who to appoint, but the timeliness of a new awful policy and a lot of openings on the Board seems like two issues that can be linked.

by Marc on Dec 21, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

Several people said on the morning post that it was TSA, not Metro Transit police doing checks. That puts it in a different light.

TSA likes to try and pretend their "mandate" is bigger than airport and so do a few of these a year (amtrak, buses, etc). I suspect this is more about defining some jurisdictional territory than new security policy.

The interesting con law questions, is what happens when you 1) see a check ; 2) walk away from station; 3) plainclothes sees you behaving "suspiciously" by not taking the check; 4) stops you and find 3 ounces of coke that you're hiding. Legal search?

This is security theatre is the purest form: trying to scare passengers.

by charlie on Dec 21, 2010 4:36 pm • linkreport

you forgot to mention that it is just as easy to strap explosives to your body, submit to the bag check, and still blow up a train.

Security Theater. This is what happens when big security agencies are created during boom times, and then face cutbacks when the belt has to be tightened. Big, public displays of security to justify bloated budgets.

by anonymous on Dec 21, 2010 4:39 pm • linkreport

@Matt-

Ohhh the emphasis changes it entirely- thanks! I'd read it as "imagine how before 9/11..." rather than the thought-test "imagine a world before 9/11 where..."

by Bossi on Dec 21, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

In MacWade, the court ruled that the searches must be consensual.

You are mistaken. The court's decision does not say that anywhere.

Given that, if someone is not made aware that they have the ability to decline, it would seem to bring up circumstances similar to those in Miranda.

As I said before, it doesn't. Consent to search is valid even if no warning is given that refusal is an option. The case reports are filled with court opinions concerning drivers who (stupidly, in my view) consent to searches of their cars, leading to discovery of drugs or other contraband. As long as the consent is real -- and that doesn't require a Miranda-like warning -- the search is lawful.

To be clear: I think MacWade was wrongly decided. If WMATA police insist on a search as a condition of my entry, I'm likely to bring a Fourth Amendment challenge. So I'm not saying these searches are sensible or even lawful. But failure to give overt warnings that consent may be refused will not vitiate consent if given.

by eck on Dec 21, 2010 4:50 pm • linkreport

I just read a WaPo article that said the tests would pick up gun powder/explosives if someone, say, had been to a firing range. One person with a positive test was pulled aside, interviewed and detained 8 minutes. So, potentially, all legal gun owners (who have shot recently) will be interveiwed and detained. It just smacks of bias against gun-owners who shoot. I see the NRA getting involved, especially with the change in congress.

by Tina on Dec 21, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

I'm just cynical because -- from reading Unsuck Metro -- too many Metro employees don't take it seriously when people report abandoned or suspicious bags as it is. how are random searches going to be any better?

by lou on Dec 21, 2010 5:47 pm • linkreport

Metro is just trying to appear to be doing something. These inspections are completely ineffective. I don't want to go into details, but any terrorist with half a brain can easily get into the Metro. The only way this can be effective is if screening is done at every station at the same time, all the time.

Ultimately, it is we the passengers who are the main line of defense against terrorists, as happened in 2 attempted airliner bombings and Flight 97. We are the ones who must be alert to suspicious passengers and unaccompanied baggage. Of course, knowing what makes another passenger suspicious has to be learned and is subjective.

by Chuck Coleman on Dec 21, 2010 6:39 pm • linkreport

Matt, you wrote, "The Metro Transit Police Department is an asset to this region. I respect their officers for what they do to keep Metro safe." Such as --?

by Turnip on Dec 21, 2010 6:45 pm • linkreport

I have had two experience with reporting unattended items to METRO. In the first case, I reported a "suspicious" box to the train operator. A few stations later a station manager got on the train, picked up the box, and took it off. If it had been a "whatever"...

The second time a woman reported a suspicious bag to the train operator. Nothing happened.

And, I suspect if you have been working with fertilizer, think Miracle Grow, you will set off their sniffer. Remember, it was fertilizer that destroyed the Federal Bldg in Oklahoma City, used by white Christian Americans.

by kenf on Dec 21, 2010 7:42 pm • linkreport

OP +1

by Amber on Dec 21, 2010 7:50 pm • linkreport

As always: Matt +1. A very thorough summation of the practical arguments against this security theater.

I'd like to make a more philosophical point, Matt says:

Terrorism is a real threat.

True, but only because it is a very broad statement.

Terrorism is actually a very minute threat.

There are more people that win the lottery, more people that get hit in traffic, more people that get robbed, more people that get cancer, more people that get murdered every single day in the US, than there are people that get hurt by terrorism in a year in the US.

Yet we accept all those risks. We engage in traffic. There are no security check-points in neighborhoods with many if not daily murders. Unhealthy behavior is encouraged through advertising. Many people do not gamble because the chance of winning is too small.

The goal of terrorism is not to kill. The goal is to instill fear. By reacting to that fear, terrorists are winning.

The US started two wars far away so that it did not have to fight terrorists here in the US. So why do we get these checks?

It simply does not add up.

by Jasper on Dec 21, 2010 8:12 pm • linkreport

The wording is off, but, those who give up their liberties to protect their freedom deserve niether.
That Ben Franklin was pretty clever.

by Tony T on Dec 21, 2010 8:46 pm • linkreport

@Matt: you wrote, In MacWade, the court ruled that the searches must be consensual. Given that, if someone is not made aware that they have the ability to decline, it would seem to bring up circumstances similar to those in Miranda.

the case on point is not MacWade, it's Schneckloth v. Bustamonte (1973) where the Supreme Court held that voluntary consent to be searched doesn't require that the subject know (or be informed) of his/her right to refuse the search.

by AJ on Dec 21, 2010 8:57 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry, but the Fourth Amendment, your freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, has pretty much become a joke over the last decade. Name the situation and the courts have installed ever widening gaps in the law -- police errors, bad warrants, automobiles, airports, the list goes on. Add judges who like to read the word "unreasonable" with the same narrowness that they give to "cruel and unusual" and torture. (But when it comes to a well-regulated militia, apparently we're all members.) Add the threat of terrorism, real or imaginary. The result is zero sympathy from judges.

As misguided and unfair as this may be though, the bag checks at least ensure that there is a law enforcement presence in the metro system. Ride the rails in NYC and you will see cops on the trains at all hours. Up to this point, the same cannot have been said about DC. So while the civil libertarian in me is outraged, I can't help but think the end result is really so terrible.

by aaa on Dec 21, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

@AAA Do you think having a law enforcement presence will really deter anything? All it will do it piss off customers that have been pushed to the edge with degrading service and rising costs.

There are crimes that are committed within the system all the time, but they are rarely stopped by police. There are far more immanent threats from non-terrorism related issue, but yet this is what they choose to focus on.

It is one thing to have a presence inside the system, ensuring the safety of the riders. It's another to do spot checks in 1-2 stations covering 0.001% of ridership.

Our rights are truly eroding away. And this is nothing more than Security Theater. It's things like this that makes me want to drive into DC than having some Metro LEO inspect my lunch and umbrella.

by LTParis on Dec 21, 2010 10:03 pm • linkreport

What no strip searches?

by JAY on Dec 21, 2010 10:37 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, VERY well said. The whole security theater makes you wonder who has an interest in scarring the populace? And how is it they are getting away with it? A century ago 'they' invented the idea of the 'anarchist'. Almost exactly 100 years later it's the 'terrorist' ... different name, same exact attributes. It was fake then, and it's fake now. Yes, of course there are 'bad guys' who will try to scare you since that is the only power they have, but our own government using this very very very minor threat which, as you Jasper so aptly put is far less a threat then just living daily life with its daily threats, is just too much. And why do we put up with it? We really shouldn't because it upends all the democratic priniciples upon which we've built this nation. It gives power to people neither elected to govern, nor worthy of such trust. It's got to stop. And only we can stop it.

by Lance on Dec 21, 2010 10:56 pm • linkreport

Matt or David,

Is the next RAC meeting Monday January 3, as in the post above, or Wednesday January 5, as listed in this site's calendar and an announcement I just received from the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition?

Thanks in advance for clarification.

by Kurt Raschke on Dec 21, 2010 11:11 pm • linkreport

Kurt,

It's Monday, January 3. The 5th is the regular monthly RAC meeting, where a variety of topics will be discussed. The 3rd is a special committee meeting to specifically talk about bag searches.

I've now added that to the GGW calendar and will contact the MoCo Civil Rights Coalition.

Thanks for your question.

by David Alpert on Dec 22, 2010 12:25 am • linkreport

The random bag searches will stop the first time a Metro employees insists that a federal employee opens his classified documents pouch.

Thus, if anyone on GGW works for the IC, just use your courier privileges, load up a classified pouch, get pulled over and call your CI contact. I guarantee the feds will stop this nonsense in a day.

by MPC on Dec 22, 2010 3:49 am • linkreport

I agree with Lance, Jasper's take on this whole thing is spot on.
As an aside, I find it quite odd, but somehow thrilling at the same time, to be agreeing so wholeheartedly with something that Lance and Jasper say on these forums.

by Josh S on Dec 22, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

Stop the whining people! Metro is extremely inept at most of what it does, including policing, however, I ask this- just exactly what are you willing to accept in the name of security efforts, if not these searches? Take those illegal drugs and paraphernalia out of your purses and satchels and stop crying, please! If they catch one dumb-ass person with explosives or something else harmful then it will all have been worth it, and even if they do not, the searches will likely have been a deterrent, so, success!!! If you are not willing to go so far as to possibly having to submit yourself to a quick search, then don't ride the system. I for one view this as a small price to pay for however little security it provides. Times have changed, and we are lucky so far that there have not been regular terrorist attacks on our soil.

by KevinM on Dec 22, 2010 9:27 am • linkreport

@ John S: I find it quite odd, but somehow thrilling at the same time, to be agreeing so wholeheartedly with something that Lance and Jasper say on these forums.

I am somewhat shocked as well that Lance agrees with me. It must be the spirit of Christmas.

@ KevinM: If they catch one dumb-ass person with explosives or something else harmful then it will all have been worth it, and even if they do not, the searches will likely have been a deterrent, so, success!!!

But they haven't, they aren't and they won't. And in "they" I'll include every official searching bags in the whole world. Nor is there a single terrorist that is intimidated by a bag search. Most of these idiots are committed to dying that same day.

Meanwhile, tax money is being wasted for this nonsense. Terrorists have succeeded in making us spending money on bag searches in stead of on education, health care (research), infrastructure or charity.

Question: How many of you/us here are willing to refuse a bag search and get to the next station?

by Jasper on Dec 22, 2010 9:40 am • linkreport

To answer Jasper's question, I have stopped taking my bag to work, which again shows how stupid these new searches are. I could walk in with a explosive vest and they would be none the wiser, along with the other 99.9% of people not being searched or not carrying on bags.

The terrorists have truly won. We are a nation of paniced sheeple, along with a system (FBI, HomSec, Metro Police, Local Police, TSA etc) that is all too willing to bust budgets to buy unproven technology and bully the populace into compliance.

by LTParis on Dec 22, 2010 10:03 am • linkreport

@KevinM: You asked "I ask this- just exactly what are you willing to accept in the name of security efforts, if not these searches?"

How about taking the people (whether they're Metro police or TSA) and having them patrol trains and stations instead. That would do more to prevent terrorism than random bag searches at the entrance. And it would also help protect riders from violent teenagers, grab-and-run thefts, etc. (which are much more of a real danger to most riders than terrorism is).

by Rob on Dec 22, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

Weren't the blockade and search tactics of DC Police in Trinidad a couple summers ago eventually found to be unconstitutional? My recollection make me think there's an irony here, or a lesson. Too many outsiders were OK with the police blockading an entire neighborhood and searching everybody that came and went. But now that the Metro-riding technorati of the blogging world are subject to similar, but less draconian, infringements it seems like everyone's against it.

Lesson: other people's rights are your rights too. If you let it happen to others it will happen to you eventually.

by crin on Dec 22, 2010 10:51 am • linkreport

WORD! Stop to moron-police state. These bag searches do absolutely NOTHING to increase security. These bag searches are so easy to beat, even the Time Square guy could have done it. We keep imposing police state intrusions on citizens, that have no relationship whatsoever to security.

This was really well written. WMATA is moronic. When I have the choice (and I usually do), I will drive, taken the bike, or rent from CABI. I am done with WMATA.

by bArlington on Dec 22, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

@Jasper - if subjected to a search, I will politely refuse, exit the station, and either walk to work or board at the next station. If detained for refusing to be searched, I will happily call my lawyer (aka fiance) and refuse to speak a single word until he arrives. And then I'll use my lawsuit proceeds for a very happy honeymoon.

by Shannon on Dec 22, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

You completely forgot about the part where *if* you end up getting interviewed - as that unfortunate gentleman did for 8 minutes - you WILL end up in an FBI terrorist database. Read the Washington Post expose this week on how government is tracking our moves.

The real purpose of this show is to wield more power over Americans.

Joe McCarthy would be so proud....

by Brian on Dec 22, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

@ Shannon: If detained for refusing to be searched, I will happily call my lawyer (aka fiance) and refuse to speak a single word until he arrives.

Just hoping you will get that one phone call. Plenty of suspected terrorists are still waiting for that call. Obama is signing an executive order of indefinite detention today...

by Jasper on Dec 22, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

This is just another way the Government likes to keep the people stirred up, in this paranoia world the government will never stop this police state reign of terror. I'm waiting for the day when you will have to show papers to travel from state to state because the people in this country will let it happen.

by fred on Dec 22, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

@ Rob- you wrote:
"How about taking the people (whether they're Metro police or TSA) and having them patrol trains and stations instead. That would do more to prevent terrorism than random bag searches at the entrance. And it would also help protect riders from violent teenagers, grab-and-run thefts, etc. (which are much more of a real danger to most riders than terrorism is)."

Says you! Personally, I don't worry about the kids on the Metro. Pay attention to your surroundings, don't act scared, and generally these kids will not bother you. I wish one would make a grab for my smart phone or anything else in my possession- you'll be reading about their demise in the next days' newspaper. These kids are punks, and a stern look will back them off as often as not.

@ crin- you wrote:
"Weren't the blockade and search tactics of DC Police in Trinidad a couple summers ago eventually found to be unconstitutional? My recollection make me think there's an irony here, or a lesson. Too many outsiders were OK with the police blockading an entire neighborhood and searching everybody that came and went. But now that the Metro-riding technorati of the blogging world are subject to similar, but less draconian, infringements it seems like everyone's against it.

Lesson: other people's rights are your rights too. If you let it happen to others it will happen to you eventually."

I know quite a few residents of Trinidad who were extremely pleased with that police action. The craziness subsided and the neighborhood became more livable. Just because a few bloggers say that our rights are being trampled and it's the end of the world- it ain't necessarily so. I gladly submitted myself to the scrutiny when I ventured into Trinidad, and I felt safer doing so knowing that the hoods and thugs were being watched more carefully.

Bottom line- these folks on GGW saying that the searches don't make us safer doesn't make it so.

by KevinM on Dec 22, 2010 4:17 pm • linkreport

@ KevinM: Bottom line- these folks on GGW saying that the searches don't make us safer doesn't make it so.

True. But, ..... Bottom line- these folks on GGW in the government saying that the searches don't make us safer doesn't make it so.

by Jasper on Dec 22, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Maybe we also need to randomly stop every car on the beltway one day and check for bombs. Just in case.

by Katmere on Dec 22, 2010 7:29 pm • linkreport

I didn't see a point regarding how it made the system less safe. The story mentioned that someone had to wait 8 minutes to get a bag check. Okay. I routinely have to do that to board a plane, but what does that have to do with anything? Does it make it more annoying or less safe?

by liz on Dec 22, 2010 7:44 pm • linkreport

It makes the system less safe because they could be using these resources for better use (e.g. riding on the trains, roaming through stations). Bag checking will not net one single terrorist, but will violate every one's 4th amendment rights in the process.

Annoying? Check! Less safe? Yes it is!

by LTParis on Dec 22, 2010 7:54 pm • linkreport

What's up with some folks here on this blog thinking they know better than the security and police professionals what makes us safer and which tactics are worthwhile and which are not? Seems some of you are in the wrong jobs. And for all of you who have predicted that the searches will not net one wrong-doer, will you be so kind as to give me the winning Powerball numbers for Saturday?

by KevinM on Dec 23, 2010 7:09 am • linkreport

@KevinM. Can you describe one incident where a would-be terrorist was caught at a security check point? Can you cite any qualified material that shows that these random bag searches make us any safer? Seems if you are going to throw away our constitutional rights against reasonable search and seizure you can identify these perilous points.

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 7:35 am • linkreport

@ LTParis-

That's not my job. I don't claim policing or security credentials. All I am saying is the police and security folks that are in those jobs should be given leeway to do their jobs. They're the professionals, not the self-important bloggers that think they have the best ideas for everything under the sun. So much criticism of what they are doing- how about some support instead? At least give the ideas being tried a shot, before condemning the efforts, or, is that too much like right?!

by KevinM on Dec 23, 2010 8:22 am • linkreport

This has been tried for a while in NYC and Boston subways without any empirical evidence of stopping anyone. And no I don't believe giving unconstitutional ideas a shot to see if they work out.

By your set of standards here, you would find it fine to strip search an individual to see "if that works out". How about random vehicle pull over’s just to see if "that works out"? How about random home invasions from the police just to see "how that works out".

Mind you I am a friend of the police. My father was a Baltimore City Police Officer, so I have much respect for LEO. But not when it infringes on one's constitutional rights.

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 8:58 am • linkreport

With probable cause, I'm all for strip searching a suspect. However, we are not talking about strip searches here, we are talking about simple bag searches, if I'm not mistaken. Random bag searches which, as I understand, people are at liberty to refuse, if they wish to. I say again- times have changed drastically, and they call for drastic measures, including, in my view, some measure of infringement upon our "rights" as citizens. I've got nothing to hide in whatever I may be carrying when I board Metrorail or Metrobus. I'd rather submit myself to a simple search at least on a temporary basis than to suffer another 911 type catastrophe and end up with martial law across the country. I suspect you don't want profiling, so random searches seem to be the way to go. Leave your contraband at home and let's ride! Sooner or later they will catch one of these terrorists and everybody will be so happy.

by KevinM on Dec 23, 2010 9:20 am • linkreport

Sorry if you think measures like this will prevent another terrorism attack, then you are probably going to be disappointed.

If you think this is going to be temporary I think that will only be if it's too cost prohibitive, or if there is enough public bascklash against it.

And I am sick of this "I have nothing to hide" argument. That is pure BS and it's not the point that you are subverting your constitutional rights.

I suspect you do wan't profiling, so they can round up people of ethnic pursuasion you feel are threating. What happens when the next McVeigh wants to take some action?

What happens if someone with a bomb vest attacks. Do we then do scanners? What happens if we have a shoe bomber? Do we take off our shoes at the fare gate? You see where things are going here.

If you so live in fear of an attack, why not move to a more rural area? Let people that want their constitutional freedoms entact alone.

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

@LTParis-

I agree with you on one thing- I am indeed willing to "subvert" as you say, some of my rights, in order to be safe in the current set of circumstances. Also, I do want sensible profiling. You think police don't already profile? Get real- I'm sure each and every cop on the street does it, and it certainly happens to me often enough- perhaps you heard the term "driving while black"?! Save that for somebody who doesn't know better. What you seem to be suggesting is that because there are ways to beat this particular tactic(random bag searches), the authorities shouldn't do use it. Well so what- the terrorists are not all rocket scientists, and again I say there is a chance one will get caught or deterred, and that makes it worthwhile. I say that you folks who are not willing to accept whatever tactics are necessary to stay safe are the ones who should move, because I'm okay with what the authorities are doing. In answer to another of your questions- if someone goes in Metro with a shoe bomb or a vest full of explosives, then I'll be ready for feet inspections and scanners next. You already put up with that to fly- what's your problem, afraid you'll be late for work???

by KevinM on Dec 23, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

Current set of circumstances? You really think that the most pressing issue of the day is terrorism? Me thinks you need to turn off the news and enjoy life. What I am suggesting is more sensible and less invasive tactics like patrols in the station, searches with dogs on the train, etc. Pulling a small sample at various stages will not net anything.

I know all about DWB, my wife is black and has been harassed plenty of times. Does not make the practice right in any way.

And for the record I refuse to fly now as their tactics are flat out idiotic and criminal. Try to do what they do out in public, you would be arrested for sexual harassment.
Sorry I want to live in America, where fear and knee jerk reactions do not rule the day. Seems you have bought into the hype hook, line, and sinker. You are still more likely to be struck by lightning, do we arrest mother nature? You are far more likely to be in a car accident, should we ban cars so people can be "safe"?

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 6:48 pm • linkreport

I don't think the most pressing issue is terrorism, but in terms of consequence, I can't think of anything more disabling to our city than an attack on the metro. Terrorists have targeted our metro, the subway systems of our allies, and have a history of targeting planes and transportation infrastructure. With that said, it is reasonable for metro police to work closely with our intelligence community and use flexible tactics to address threats that security professionals deem legitimate. They should also fix broken escalators, yell at people who stand on the left, address safety issues, and combat the thugs that steal our cellphones when we're not looking.

They are starting random bag searches, we're not all having to go through TSA style pat downs just to go to two stops to Dupont Circle. The folks who FREAK OUT over terrorism fears are just as wacko as those who FREAK OUT over a random bag search. Go re-watch the video clips for the rally for sanity, have a beer, and chill out.

by Liz M on Dec 23, 2010 7:58 pm • linkreport

We are not having TSA styles searches... yet. I guarantee there will come a time when the public "tolerates it enough". Sorry I am freaking out over bag searches because it's unconstitutional. Sorry as a citizen of the US the price of freedom can be high, and when you give up your rights for perceived security, you are heading down a perilous road.

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 8:03 pm • linkreport

It's not against the constitution for them do to random bag searches and while I'm venting and have the floor, I'm tired of the the far left and right declaring everything they dislike to be unconstitutional. This demeans the constitution the way calling everyone you dislike a nazi demeans the vile notoriety earned by actual nazis.

We aren't talking about a full anal probe with a microchip implanted into your forehead to identify you as a previously cleared American. It is a random bag search.

by Liz M on Dec 23, 2010 8:26 pm • linkreport

Well no one knows if this will follow the same suit that NYC has in 2005/6 where the 2nd Circuit ruled it was reasonable. Problem is it has not gone up the chain of the courts. I would still like to know how not having a specific threat allows for warrant-less searches as reasonable.

Would a random car check be fine? Random house check? Seriously where is the line drawn?

by LTParis on Dec 23, 2010 8:36 pm • linkreport

Weren't the blockade and search tactics of DC Police in Trinidad a couple summers ago eventually found to be unconstitutional? ... But now that the Metro-riding technorati of the blogging world are subject to similar, but less draconian, infringements it seems like everyone's against it.

Yes, they were found unconstitutional but for a variety of different reasons from the test used to determine the constitutionality of performing random bag searches in the subway system to prevent terrorism. The latter was found to be articulatably reasonable and constitutional by the federal circuit court in at least one instance. In reality the two types of searches are not that similar, so they shouldn't be used as a basis for comparison.

I think we should stop short of saying that bag checks deter no one. By no means do I think bag checks are the best way to deter terrorism, but what is the evidence that they are at best useless and at worst counterproductive? It would be great if we could hear from some security experts on this issue instead of just from transit experts.

From what I've read (very little I concede), I think terrorists greatly value predictability, and some would probably reconsider carrying out an attack if they had to change their plans abruptly or be subject to a search with police presence. So I think "simply walking from one station to another" is not telling the whole story about how terrorists actually think and act.

by Scoot on Dec 28, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

@ Scoot-

Finally, someone else with good sense! Most of the rest of the posters on here have been simply talking out of the side of their necks, just to hear themselves talk, so-to-speak.

By the way, regarding the Trinidad situation, notwithstanding whatever constitutional ruling might have been made, I'd venture to say that the residents of that neighborhood felt safer while the stop and search tactics were going on than at most other times. At least, several that I know personally have expressed that to me.

by KevinM on Dec 29, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

@ KevinM. Sure they may have felt safer in Trinidad, but the DC Police stepped over the line and the courts at least agreed with that.

As for those bag searches that were found reasonable, what surprised me in that ruling is the defendants (NYC Police) never had the burden to prove that bag searches indeed resulted in stopping terrorist acts. Also the NYCLU never appealed the ruling.

by LTParis on Dec 29, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

I think we should wait on the bag searches until there is an actual terrorist attack.

by M on Jan 4, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

@ M-
That sounds a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has gone...

by KevinM on Jan 5, 2011 7:42 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us