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DC subway bag searches draw conflicting public comments

Metro bag search

A public meeting to address concerns about recently-implemented random bag searches on the Washington DC area’s Metro subway system drew spirited negative comments from a contingent of civil rights advocates, but also drew support from other concerned citizens.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Riders Advisory Council (WMATA RAC) met Jan. 3 to hear public comments on the searches that began on the transit system’s rail lines in December. The searches were opposed by the DC Bill of Rights Coalition and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition with online petitions that said the searches were ineffective and violated Constitutional rights.

Those were the arguments submitted in comments to the WMATA RAC and posted on the groups’ web sites after the hearing.

“The WMATA’s new bag search policy is a clear violation of our 4th amendment rights and is especially worrisome as infringements on our civil liberties seem to be increasing at faster pace,” said Thomas Nephew, in comments presented at the meeting and posted on Montgomery Civil Rights Coalition web site.  “Our government’s counter-terrorism, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are now habitually violating the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th amendment rights of both foreign nationals and American citizens.”

“I enjoy using the Metro system, but the recent decision to implement random bag searches sets a bad precedence for safety measures,” said Christopher Der, a transit system user whose comments to the RAC were also posted on the Montgomery coalition’s site.  “They lack effectiveness, constitute an extremely poor use of resources, and foster a sense of mistrust and unnecessary fear mongering,” he said

“The random bag search process constitutes nothing more than useless security theatrics,” he added.

At the meeting, according to reports, transit agency police officials said they had conducted screenings at Metro stations two days in December and no one refused them o Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Ron Pavlik told the council, that feedback had been positive.

Although dozens turned out for the meeting, some in attendance said the complaints were sometimes loud, but questioned the knowledge of those complaining.

“It was amazing that several of the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council members particularly (not to mention many folks who testified) clearly hadn't bothered to watch the Transit Police videos (located on the WMATA web site) ahead of the hearing tonight to discover that the Transit Police have not been going inside of bags as a part of the routine searches,” said Martin Moulton, president of the Convention Center Community Association on his Web blog the day after the hearing. “A lot of the folks who testified should have done some minimal homework first, but many came in guns blazing, so to speak; several folks left early after hearing initial comments from the Transit Police who put many concerns to rest,” he said.

“All of the officers doing security checks are trained in a regular one year police program. The notion that these were inexperienced unprofessional TSA officers was unfounded. It was also good that that they pointed out that, from studies of actual terrorist attempts, many would-be terrorists do several dry runs before executing a plot and the random nature of the current bag checks is effective in throwing a wrench in such plans. The officers also stated that no one has refused to have their bag inspected so far in the program and nearly all of the response the officers have gotten from patrons in the stations has been positive,” said Moulton.


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