By SEWELL CHAN and KAREEM FAHIM
Published: July 22, 2005
The police last night began random searches of backpacks and packages brought into the New York City subways as officials expressed alarm about the latest bomb incidents in the London transit system. The searches, which will also include commuter rail lines, are not a response to a specific threat against the city, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who authorized the searches shortly before he announced them at a morning news conference.
The police have previously inspected bags at major events like parades and demonstrations, and the authorities in Boston conducted random baggage searches on commuter rail lines during the Democratic National Convention last year, but officials here could not recall a precedent for a broad, systematic search of packages in the New York City subways, which provide 4.7 million rides each weekday.
At some of the busiest of the city's 468 stations, riders will be asked to open their bags for a visual check before they go through the turnstiles. Those who refuse will not be permitted to bring the package into the subway but will be able to leave the station without further questioning, officials said.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly promised "a systematized approach" in the searches and said the basis for selecting riders for the checks would not be race, ethnicity or religion....
They won't be profiling on race or ethnicity.
And if you believe that one, there's some lovely swampland in Florida that I could show you...
Thing is, given the number of people who take the NY subways every day, there isn't any way they can meaningfully do random searches. (Practically speaking, with all the worst will in the world, they can't even meaningfully search profiled riders; there are just too many riders given the number of entry points and police.) The only way they're going to be able to feel that they're doing anything effective is to search, nonrandomly, the people who "look" like they might have ... something. Given that the police have already stated that anyone found with weapons or illegal drugs will be arrested, and the fact that very few terrorists are polite enough to put nametags on saying, "Hi! I'm (insert name here), a terrorist planning to blow up the Empire State building!" chances are very good that the program will turn into nothing more than an excuse to search for weapons and drugs.
City authorities say that the program will "deter would-be attackers and improve the public's confidence." First, it won't deter any "attacker" with a working brain cell;e blowing up the station itself is just as effective as blowing up the train, and they know perfectly well that the police will never have enough people to keep this up all that long. If they can't blow up a train station, they'll just refuse a search, go outside, and blow up a bus. Second, any perceived increase in safety is utterly alse, and does the public a disservice; they won't actually be any safer.
Well. We'll see what happens, won't we?Posted by iain at July 22, 2005 06:00 PM