Police to Check Bags on NYC Subways
In a marked overreaction to the second series of terrorist bombings of the London subways, New York City has announced it will begin checking passenger bags on its massive subway system.
Police will begin conducting random searches of packages and backpacks carried by people entering city subways, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday after a new series of bomb attacks in London. Authorities said the system is still being developed, but the plan is for passengers carrying bags to be selected at random before they have passed through turnstiles. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly promised that officers would not engage in racial profiling, and that passengers will be free to “turn around and leave” rather than consent to a search.
Officials would not immediately say how frequently the checks would occur. The checks are scheduled to begin at some stations by Thursday evening and will be occurring throughout the system by rush hour on Friday. “We just live in a world where, sadly, these kinds of security measures are necessary,” Bloomberg said. “Are they intrusive? Yes, a little bit. But we are trying to find that right balance.”
Searching the bags of more than a token number of straphangers may be impossible. New York’s subways carry about 4.5 million passengers on the average weekday, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. There are 468 subway stations in the system, most of which have multiple entrances, and during rush hours, the flood of commuters hurrying in and out of key stations can be overwhelming. Asked whether the searches might create bottlenecks at subway entrances, Kelly suggested the searches would be of a small enough sampling of passengers that only individuals, rather than whole crowds, would be delayed. “We are going to do it in a reasonable commonsense way,” he said.
I understand the pressure the mayor and other public officials are under in this climate. Still, this policy is absurd.
For one thing, it makes zero sense to allow people subjected to random searches to leave. That has no deterrent value whatsoever. A terrorist group can plot an attack and figure they have an excellent chance of making it through without a check. On the off chance they are selected, they decline and leave to come back in an hour or the next day. What a joke.
Further, as the article makes clear, the logistics of meaningfully searching 4.5 million passengers crunched for time and spread over 468 stations are markedly harder to pull off than the relatively undertravelled airport system.
Update: Maybe DC’s Metro, too.
Cities look for ways to secure rails – D.C. considers random searches (USA TODAY, p. 3)
Subway riders may face random police checks of their bags under a security measure being considered in the nation’s capital, the latest city to look for ways to deter terrorism on rail systems. No decision has been made on the idea for the city’s 106-mile Metrorail system, and the logistics would be difficult. But Ã¢€œit would be another tool in our security toolbox,Ã¢€ says Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
The possibility is one of many ideas being floated here and elsewhere while the terrorist threat level for transit systems remains at Ã¢€œhighÃ¢€ after the July 7 terrorist suicide bombings in London’s underground rail tunnels.
Many of the USA’s commuter rail and subway systems are much more difficult to secure than airports because they are vast and open. Several cities have bolstered security by adding to what’s already available: more cameras, more bomb-sniffing dogs and more announcements reminding people to report suspicious behavior and packages.
via Brian Noggle