New York Subway Riders Face Random Searches
The bombings of the Tube in London have sparked a tightening of security measures on several mass transit systems in U.S. cities — including random searches of passengers travelling on the New York subways.
Ever since 911 (and earlier) experts have warned that the U.S. transportation system was a security Achilles’ heel. And since the July 7th bombings of London’s subways and a double-decker bus city and security officials have been scrambling to find ways to put extra protection in place. The satirical magazine The Onion even ran a headline declaring:”Unreleased Harry Potter book more secure than U.S. trains.”
You can see efforts to beef up security in several areas.
In New York, it was announced that there would be random checks of backpacks and other packages carried by travelers on the city’s busy subways. The LA Times:
The searches will rotate through the 468 stations of the system, which carries more than 4.5 million passengers on an average weekday.
In this case, the paper reports, passengers may be asked to allow to have their bags, packages and backpacks searched before they enter into the transit system — and if they refuse they won’t be allowed in.
Meanwhile, in an editorial titled “Searches Beat Bombs,” the New York Post reports that the announced measures have been criticized by the ACLU:
“Random searches of people without the suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values,” huffed Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “This is a very troubling announcement.”
The Washington Post reports that the ACLU may sue:
The New York Civil Liberties Union has set up a complaint form on its Web site, and its attorneys said they are considering a lawsuit. Last year, the group successfully sued to prevent the police from searching the bags of people on their way to political demonstrations.
“Our position is that the police should aggressively investigate anyone whom they suspect of bringing explosives into the system,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director for the organization. “But police searches of subway riders without any suspicions are presumptively unconstitutional.”
Even if New Yorkers are used to increased scrutiny, living in a city that some residents fear is still too tempting a target for terrorists — given its demographic, population-size, cultural and financial symbolisms — experts quoted in Newsday note that this is a big SHIFT:
The searches heighten transit security to a level never before seen, even in the tense days after Sept. 11, when police began increased subway patrols, soldiers started to guard stations and officers were posted at the mouths of underwater tunnels.
“It’s a different period, with different problems and different fears,” said Clifton Hood, author of the seminal “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York.”
Hood, a history professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., said the checks solidified what many New Yorkers knew already: Life has changed in one of the the city’s most indelible lifelines.
The New York Post notes that extra security is NOT unusual in New York City where in the post-911 world residents faced extra scrutiny at Yankee and Shea stadiums and in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Meanwhile, extra cameras are being placed in commuter trains in Chicago and in Portland:
Chicago: The city’s transit authority plans to install cameras on 700 new rail cars. None of the 1,190 rail cars in operation have cameras, and no car-replacement schedule has been set. All of the city’s 2,000 buses have cameras.
Portland: Four cameras are on each of the 105 TriMet trains, and about two-thirds of its 611 buses have three to five cameras each.
Cameras also are at several stations, platforms and parking garages.
Security has been particularly tightened in Chicago, according to ABC7Chicago.com:
Commuters who ride Metra and the CTA have seen stepped up security for two weeks now. The Chicago Police Marine Unit is checking bridges, especially those that commuter trains cross, looking for anything suspicious.
The head of the FBI in Chicago says there has no been intelligence or chatter alluding to a threat to the city. Local police say the public has really stepped up, phoning-in reports of dozens of suspicious sightings over the last two weeks.
Law enforcement admits urban transit, including trains, stations and buses, are incredibly vulnerable — and appealing — targets for terrorists.
The problem experts, government officials and security bigwigs face is this: terrorists don’t usually strike when the guard is totally up but wait until there’s a lull and they can take innocent men, women and children and officials by surprise. It’s like a big, bloody sucker punch.