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.
October 28, 2008; 3:27 PM ET
Categories: Metro , Safety
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