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Readers Grill Transit Police Chief Over Bag Search Plan

Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn faced some tough questioning today during a chat with readers after the transit system's announcement that it would begin conducting random searches of riders' bags. Commuters have expressed concern and skepticism over the new program intended to help root out possible terrorist attacks.

Here are some highlights:

Falls Church, Va.: Under what legal authority do Metro Police have in subjecting individuals to random searches? What federal law or state laws authorize these searches?

Michael Taborn: Legal authority to inspect packages brought into mass transit systems and other venues has been upheld by the courts in numerous jurisdictions. Metro's inspection program is very similar to the one conducted in the subway system in New York City. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has specifically ruled on the constitutionality of the New York program in MacWade v. Kelly.

Washington, D.C.: Will they be cracking down on other things when they do these searches (besides drugs and weapons) -- like food/drinks?

Michael Taborn: The purpose of the inspections is to look for explosives or other dangerous devices. We will not be checking for food and drinks. But I'd like to remind customers that eating and drinking is prohibited in the Metro system. You can carry the items on board, but cannot consume them.

Washington, D.C.: Can I decline the search? What happens if I do?

Michael Taborn: You may decline the search, but you will not be permitted to enter the station with your carry-on items.

Baltimore: If I refuse to have my bag searched and opt instead to return my bag to my car or office, am I allowed to re-enter the station (without my bag)?

Michael Taborn: Yes.

Washington, D.C.: How can they stop every 15th or 17th or 21st person? People enter in mobs, not single-file lines. ...

Michael Taborn: A supervisor will designate one officer with the specific task of counting the passengers as they enter the station.

Washington, D.C.: I am opposed to these searches and plan on refusing any Metro officer's request to go through my bags. Because I'll be allowed to refuse search and turn around without being detained, I will simply enter the Metro through another escalator or elevator. How do you plan on addressing this loophole?

Michael Taborn: You may choose not to be searched and leave the station with your bags or other items. We do have a plan to address suspicious behavior.

Alexandria, Va.: Clarify how you are not violating the Fourth Amendment.

Michael Taborn: This is a consent search.

By Mike McPhate  |  October 28, 2008; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Metro , Safety  
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You left out another "highlight", which is that he had no data from Boston or New York as to whether the searches had actually uncovered any bomb plots. Rather it's just the opinion of transit officials that it's important.

If I had some sense this might actually do something, I might support it. But it seems like Metro is just waving arms around to provide the appearance of doing something, when not actually doing anything of value.

Posted by: ah___ | October 28, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

This is such nonsense. If they're worried about explosives, why isn't Metro banning liquids in >3 oz. containers too, like TSA does on planes? How on earth is a Metro cop going to identify an explosive just by looking inside a bag? Either there's something else behind this plan, or these people really are stupid.

Also, those last two questions-and-answers especially bother me. It sounds like Taborn is planning to bully people into consenting by implying that they'll be treated as suspicious if they don't.

Posted by: yeah-right | October 28, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate that Chief Talbot quoted this line twice in his chat: "The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has specifically ruled on the constitutionality of the New York program in MacWade v. Kelly."

The Second Circuit decision is NOT binding precedent on the rest of the country, and we're not in the Second Circuit.

Posted by: nocando | October 28, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

This is absurd. According to metro, the searches were last 15 seconds. Do you really thing the average, dimwitted Metro employee is going to be able to spot explosives in 15 seconds? With no X-ray machines?

This is pure security theater, and will accomplish nothing other than infringe upon our Constitutional rights.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | October 28, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This is silly. Say, for example, the random number is 15. Look, I'm no terrorist but it would make common sense for there to be two bombers walking in one behind the other. If one of them happens to be stopped, the other one probably won't. So much for "feeling" safe. And, what if person number 14 "looked" suspicious? Would they stop number 14 AND number 15?

Posted by: linroy62 | October 28, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

I can just walk slowly into the station or hang by the farecard machine until I see someone being stopped and searched. Then, I can go in anywhere within the next 14 people. This is a complete joke.

Posted by: SweetieJ | October 28, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I think people are missing the point about he bag searches. The purpose is for deterrance. You are going to be less likely to bring in explosives because of the random search.

On another note...stop complaining about how this violates your rights. It really doesn't. Just like they say, you have to consent, and if you don't, you can't enter. they do this at stadiums, airports, amtrak, etc. Also, look how you can't yell "fire" and not get in trouble - technically they are violating your right for free speech since they are going to charge you for yelling "fire" in a crowded room. sometimes you have to give up a little bit of something to make everything better.

Posted by: sonicforrest | October 29, 2008 8:50 AM | Report abuse

However we feel about these searches, it looks like we'll have to deal with them.

As it turns out, my gym bag is a glorified lunch box. Since the weather is cold, I can stuff my lunch in my coat pockets. The face off of my car radio can go in my pocket as well. Unfortunately, my umbrella won't fit in any pocket. Will I be asked to open it?

Posted by: sekz52 | October 29, 2008 10:24 AM | Report abuse

This policy is security theater at its finest:

#1 - how will anything dangerous be detected in 15 seconds?

#2 - what would stop a group of bad guys from using a different entrance (or even a different station) to gain entrance to Metro? Metro must think they all operate alone, or don't communicate with each other.

#2 - Now you'll have hordes of commuters (more than usual) crowded into a small area before the turnstiles - perfect targets and no search needed to gain access!

Posted by: zizzy | October 29, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Deterrence only works if you're likely to be caught. But there are so many ways to avoid these searches that any half-witted, semi-determined terrorist can completely evade these checks.

So how does it deter any of them?

Posted by: ah___ | October 29, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

"sometimes you have to give up a little bit of something to make everything better."

Actually, no, this country was founded on the exact opposite principle. And if we start giving up our freedoms and liberties, then the terrorists have already won.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | October 29, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I think people should subscribe to the theory of this "one guy I know". He brings his own bomb on every airplane he flies, because who ever heard of *two* bombs on an aircraft on the same flight? That never happens!

Posted by: aaronw1 | October 29, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
-Ben Franklin

Posted by: thornwalker1 | October 29, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

interesting sunday's colum . I would like to know if the b ellyachers feel the same a bout airport searches. if they do not want to give up ther fourt amendment rights I guess they will have long bus rides or train rides since they woul not allow the agents at airports search their bags, even worse, heaven tol betsy, search their bodies. In Metro's case I gladly give my fourth am3endment right than get blown up by a terrorist.

jim koricki



Posted by: nospinzone1 | November 2, 2008 9:51 PM | Report abuse

editor: please remove my phone nmber from my comment above thans

Posted by: nospinzone1 | November 2, 2008 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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