Subject: Comments to the Riders’ Advisory Council regarding suspicionless searches
I’m Karen O’Keefe, an attorney and a member of the DC Bill of Rights Coalition. One of the reasons I moved to this area was because of its excellent public transit system.
I want to start by thanking the Riders Advisory Council for listening to riders when Metro first announced a policy of random searches in 2008. The council voted 13-2 to urge Metro’s general manager to put the plan for random searches on hold until it had held public hearings. Unfortunately, Metro ignored the recommendation and, as we all know, has started a slightly modified version of the searches without having held a single meeting. I appreciate that the RAC is again listening to the public by calling this meeting.
Searching Metro passengers’ bags makes a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. The right to be free of warrantless and unreasonable searches was a central reason for the Revolutionary War, and it’s shocking that the population of the nation’s capitol is being forced to relinquish one of our most cherished liberties to get to work. Being able to refuse a search does little good, since people need to get to work on time and the expense and delay of a cab is not a realistic alternative.
There’s not even a logical reason to think this search policy would work. It’s a farce. A security expert, Bruce Schneier, termed the 2008 searches plan “security theater” to the Washington Post, saying, “Of course it’s not going to make anyone safer.” Common sense also shows random searches would not reduce the threat of terrorism. Anyone with nefarious plans could simply walk away and enter a different station, or even enter the same station later in the day. Even if the person were too dumb to just walk away after seeing there are searches, the chances that they would be the person searched at the time they planned the attack are tiny.
In addition to being nonsensical and treating riders like criminal suspects, the searches will cause serious problems to transit riders by delaying them. For one year, my husband and I were live-in caregivers for a disabled friend in the evenings. It would be maddening even when someone stood on the left on the escalators because a short delay often meant missing a train, then missing a bus, which only came every 40 minutes. That would mean that our friend could not get food, drink, or even use the bathroom while he waited.
This plan also wastes riders’ money – whether the money spent on this farce comes from our fares or their federal taxes, it is still paid for by the public. This waste comes at a time when Metro services are being cut, when Metro fares have skyrocketed, and after Metro had major mechanical failures that cost lives. When I moved to the area in 2003, the lowest regular fares were $1.10 and the maximum fares were $3.25. In less than eight years, the lowest reduced fare has increased by 45% and the maximum fare has increased by 60%. In addition to diverting resources from serving the public, this plan diverts Metro police from real police work, such as increased patrols.
Thank you for your time and for taking a stand in favor of reason and deliberation in 2008. I hope I can count on the council to once again stand up for riders, by calling on the Metro’s general manager to abandon this suspicion-less search policy.