Local news outlets are beginning to take note of Metro Transit Police Chief Taborn’s statement reported here last week — that Metro bag search refusers would “be observed” by law enforcement, including possibly by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
- NBC Washington‘s Tim Persinko more or less simply relayed the news, with minimal to no commentary of his own: “Sure you can say no to a bag search. But that does not mean Metro will leave you alone.”
Actually, given that the screenings take place before people pass the turnstiles, bag search refusers might quickly leave the jurisdiction of Metro Transit Police, who may not (yet) have authority to pursue or investigate bag search refusers either overtly or covertly. That may be one reason TSA personnel are involved, and why Taborn mentioned FBI and Homeland Security in response to David Alpert’s followup question. Hearteningly, reader reaction at the time of writing was “58% furious.”
- DCist‘s Aaron Morrissey: “There is a bit of a two-sided aspect to the policy, but in light of incidents like the recent beating at L’Enfant Plaza, many riders often complain that there is a general lack of MTP “observation” going on around the system.”
But that kind of “general lack of observation” is made worse, not better, by the kind of “security theater” these bag searches represent: MTPD manpower is diverted to pointless examinations of every Xth bag, rather than to being on hand on platforms to prevent or quickly intervene in actual crimes.
- TBD‘s Dave Jamieson was most at pains to minimize the news. While acknowledging that “[f]rom the very beginning Metro officials have tried to emphasize that anyone plucked for a screening has the option to decline and simply leave the station,”, he went on to claim: “Most of us would expect police to do at least a little digging on someone who didn’t want their bag screened. It would defeat the entire purpose of the screenings not to.”
To the contrary, when police claim in apparent good faith that one may refuse a bag search, most of us don’t expect them to cross their fingers behind their back and silently whisper “but we’ll investigate you for it.” As to the “entire purpose” of the screenings, one should hope none of the purpose involves investigating people insisting on their 4th Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches. Which is what these are.
A key question for random bag search apologists is: where does it end? Prior abrogations of the 4th Amendment have in no small part depended on the notion that only incidental, easily avoidable movements (entering a museum, flying on an airplane) were involved: an allegedly minor harm to a rarely used privilege was balanced by an ostensibly great gain.
Leaving aside whether the gains or harms were properly evaluated, we are now asked to submit to even more pointless searches as we go about our daily affairs. If Metro Transit Police can conduct random bag searches of Metro customers when it even admits there is “no specific or credible threat” to forestall, there is little or nothing to prevent similar searches of pedestrians or motorists when some police department acquires the equipment to do so, and develops the belief that it’s worth doing. And just as Chief Taborn compared Metro’s bag searches to those at the Verizon Center or at airports, so will the next police chief be pointing out that we went along with Metro bag searches — so why not his or her pet project as well?