The New York Times reports that New York City police officers will begin random searches of passengers’ bags.
Random searches are totally unacceptable. If these searches are truly random, they are unlikely to detect suicide bombers, let alone deter them. How many million riders are there on the MTA on any given day? How many transit cops would have to be diverted from more pressing duties to search the bags of random subway riders? What happens when we remember that many suicide bombers strap explosives to their bodies? Maybe the next step will be random frisks or even random strip searches.
Do we really think that these searches will be random? Mayor Bloomberg insists that the police will make every effort to avoid racial profiling. I’m willing to take him at his word as far as official policy is concerned. But we all know how this policy will play out underground–harassment and traffic jams.
“The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect is trying to bring explosives into the subway,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “However, random police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to our most basic constitutional values. This is a very troubling announcement.” [NYT]
This is not a serious counter-terrorism effort. This is a public relations move by Mayor Bloomberg and the MTA. They want to convince the public that they’re doing something to prevent terrorism on the subways. Random searches are much more telegenic than long term plans to safeguard the subway’s underwater tunnels.
It might also be a good idea to increase the number of K-9 officers and explosive-sniffing dogs, but that would cost money. Authorizing the regular transit cops to search passengers at will is basically free ? but you get what you pay for.
As a New York City subway rider, I’m outraged that the City intends to waste resources on such an intrusive PR stunt.