by Guest/incoming-front-pager Thomas Nephew
(I): Taborn's bombshell:
In mid-December, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA -- better known as "Metro" -- and its police force announced a new random bag search policy:
...police will randomly select bags or packages to check for hazardous materials using ionization technology as well as K-9 units trained to detect explosive materials. Carry on items will generally not be opened and physically inspected unless the equipment indicates a need for further inspection.
The randomness of the program is implemented by choosing some secret number N for each site and date, and selecting every Nth person with a bag. As described, the policy allows people approaching a station to decide to refuse the screening -- they just can't then bring their bags with them:
Anyone who is randomly selected and refuses to submit their carry-on items for inspection will be prohibited from bringing those items into the station. Customers who encounter a baggage checkpoint at a station entrance may choose not to enter the station if they would prefer not to submit their carry-ons for inspection.
Opponents of the policy (including myself) deemed the policy unconstitutional, ineffective, and misguided -- security theater that demands public acceptance of routine, suspicionless, unaudited (and therefore possibly profiling-based) searches for zero security in return.
Thanks in part to a good deal of mobilizing by opponents -- including an online petition and an evening of nearly unanimous public opposition -- WMATA's "Riders Advisory Council" (RAC), the institutional voice of Metro users, overwhelmingly passed a resolution in early January calling on the Board to halt the program, and require their police department to consider alternatives in consultation with civil liberties advocates.
Be observed... be watched As welcome as the 15-1-1 RAC vote was on January 5th, the real news may have happened earlier in the same meeting.
During a brief question and answer session, Metro Transit Chief Taborn confirmed that bag search refusers would "be observed... be watched" for their decision by law enforcement:
Metro Transit PD Chief Taborn answers questions by Riders Advisory Council members Diana Zinkl and David Alpert about the random bag search policy begun in December. (Excerpt transcript)
DIANA ZINKL: And also, could you also clarify, one question that came upat our last meeting, where there was some confusion - the answer either from Deputy Chief Pavlik(?) or the other officer who was in attendance -- is what happens if someone's approaching a rail station, is stopped, does not consent to the search, turns around and leaves and goes to get on the bus.
CHIEF TABORN: What happens is that according to our policy, that person is free to go. But with regards to law enforcement initiatives, there will be some actions, there will be some observations, because we need to establish why that particular person chose not to do it. So there will be some activity that's afoot.
DIANA ZINKL: Can you give us some specificity -- given that I think everyone of us in this room has been in the situation that if there's something that's not working with the rail system you go and get on a bus -- given that this is a very likely scenario, can you be a little bit more specific as to what's actually going to happen to that person and what they will be... what their experience will be? Because - I think - the reason I'm asking is that I think this is a very real scenario, and the answer that we received, that was received on Monday, indicated a fair amount of ambiguity and uncertainty from the officer...
CHIEF TABORN: Well, I can tell you without any uncertainty that that person would be observed. And what that means to you is different than what it means to me, but that person would be observed.
DIANA ZINKL: Well, could you clarify what 'be observed' means?
CHIEF TABORN: Be observed. Be, be observed. Be watched.
DIANA ZINKL: And when they try to get on the bus, what would happen?
CHIEF TABORN:That will be activities that law enforcement will use just as any regular law enforcement has to establish probable cause, to find out who, what, where, why, and when.
As I wrote at the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition blog, it got worse. When RAC chair David Alpert followed up, Chief Taborn elaborated that “[a]t some point in time, as we work with the FBI and as we work with the Department of Homeland Security, we establish why” the person refused the search.
It may not be obvious that this was a bombshell, but Chief Taborn seems to me to have admitted Metro Transit PD is engaged in an illegal program -- even under the permissive 2006 MacWade v. Kelly court ruling WMATA relies on to claim its program passes constitutional muster.
More on that in my next post.
[adapted from a post at newsrackblog.com]
Guest/incoming-front-pager post by Thomas Nephew, NOT BY GARY FARBER