Should Metro rid­ers have a say in se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures?

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - Robert Thom­son Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write to Dr. Grid­lock at TheWash­ing­ton Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington,

Dear Dr. Grid­lock:

T he folly ofMetro’s ran­dom bag checks is ob­vi­ous if you look at the math. There are 86Metro­rail sta­tions. IfMetro were to check a ran­dom num­ber of bags at ran­dom sta­tions, that’s mean­ing­less.

In ad­di­tion, swab­bing for ex­plo­sives can’t work. There are a vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited num­ber of ex­plo­sives with very dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. No sim­ple test can iden­tify ex­plo­sives.

Fur­ther­more, pow­er­ful ex­plo­sives could eas­ily fit in some­one’s pocket. Ran­dom bag checks are a com­plete waste of time and money, andMetro can’t af­ford to waste time and money.

— Bobby Baum, Bethesda

ManyMetro rid­ers have expressed sim­i­lar doubts about the pas­sen­ger in­spec­tions that the tran­sit author­ity launched last month. About 100 peo­ple took ad­van­tage of their first chance to dis­cuss the new pol­icy at a meet­ing of theMetro Rid­ers’ Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on Mon­day night. OnWed­nes­day, the coun­cil over­whelm­ingly

ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion that will ask theMetro board to sus­pend the in­spec­tions and con­sult with the pub­lic about tran­sit se­cu­rity pol­icy.

Should we have a say in se­cu­rity? Most of us aren’t se­cu­rity ex­perts or con­sti­tu­tional schol­ars.

Any time our tran­sit po­lice of­fi­cers set up one of these check­points atMetro sta­tions, they are putting them­selves in harm’s way to pro­tect us. Even if they don’t wind up open­ing a bag full of bombs— an event that rid­ers and po­lice agree is ex­tremely un­likely— they could wind up con­fronting a per­son in­tent on do­ing dam­age in some way. So we should lis­ten care­fully to what these of­fi­cers have to say about the check­point pro­gram.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t ques­tion how much se­cu­rity this pro­gram pro­vides. And it doesn’t mean we can’t ap­ply our own rea­son­able stan­dards about sur­ren­der­ing pri­vacy to the govern­ment in ex­change for what­ever level of pro­tec­tion is be­ing of­fered.

This has been done be­fore. The colonists who ques­tioned the right of the king’s govern­ment to search their prop­erty weren’t ex­perts on the Fourth Amend­ment. They hadn’t writ­ten it yet. They just knewwhat they didn’t like and thought it was worth a fight.

The trav­el­ers who at­tended the Rid­ers’ Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil hear­ing didn’t want to take up arms. They just wanted to talk. The coun­cil, a cit­i­zens panel cre­ated by the tran­sit author­ity to ad­vise it, did some­thing the Metro board has failed to do: It pro­vided a fo­rum for po­lice of­fi­cials to state their case and for rid­ers to ask their ques­tions and present ob­jec­tions.

Then the coun­cil did an­other thing that theMetro board mem­bers have failed to do: They dis­cussed the pol­icy among them­selves and raised their own con­cerns. These were among them:

Given that po­lice say they know of no cred­i­ble threat to the tran­sit sys­tem, why launch a pro­gram that re­quires ran­domly se­lected pas­sen­gers who have shown no signs of sus­pi­cious be­hav­ior to sub­mit to prop­erty in­spec­tions?

If a would-be rider ex­er­cises the right to refuse the in­spec­tion, what will hap­pen to that pas­sen­ger? Po­lice have in­di­cated that lawen­force­ment per­son­nel will ob­serve the be­hav­ior of that per­son upon leav­ing the sta­tion and will take any ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion, but they will not say what such ac­tion might in­volve.

Po­lice have said that would-be rid­ers who refuse the in­spec­tion can take their prop­erty back to their cars and re-en­ter the sta­tion. But many rid­ers don’t ar­rive by car. How­ever they ar­rive, many are just try­ing to make it to work on time. Do rid­ers have any real choice about sub­mit­ting to the po­lice in­spec­tions?

Is there a plan for how po­lice will han­dle ar­riv­ing rid­ers who have dis­abil­i­ties— such as im­paired vi­sion or hear­ing— that might in­ter­fere with their abil­ity to un­der­stand what the po­lice want them to do and why?

Howwill the tran­sit author­ity know when it’s time to stop this? An­swer­ing a rider’s ques­tion onMon­day night, tran­sit po­lice Capt. Kevin Gad­dis said, “I think un­til things change in the world, we are go­ing to con­tinue to do this.” Will the in­spec­tion pro­gram be­come a per­ma­nent part of Metro rid­ing?

Given that there was no at­tempt to in­volve rid­ers in dis­cus­sions about se­cu­rity be­fore this pas­sen­gerin­spec­tion pro­gram was launched, what other forms of per­sonal in­spec­tions might be added in the fu­ture?

When In­ter­imGen­eral Man­ager Richard Sar­les an­nounced to theMetro board last month that po­lice would be­gin stop­ping rid­ers at ran­dom for in­spec­tions, the board was in­ert. This lead­er­ship group, which likes to think of it­self as a pol­i­cy­mak­ing panel, didn’t ask a sin­gle ques­tion on be­half of rid­ers.

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