Should Metro riders have a say in security procedures?
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.