Video of 2/10/11 WMATA board bag search discussion, http://vimeo.com/19854847; we are developing a timelined transcript worksheet of director remarks, and ask for your help.*Please note that this links to nearly one hour of video, and thus takes several minutes to load completely. Loading seems to be speeded (though restarted) by right clicking the image and selecting the “Turn HD OFF” option. Shorter excerpts will soon be available on the mococivilrights YouTube channel.
On Feb 10, 2011, directors on the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Association discussed the random bag search program recently announced by the transit police department.
The discussion yielded no apparent concrete result. But it made clear that while the board was not in lockstep on the issue, it seems likely that the principal January 5th Riders Advisory Council (RAC) recommendations — halt the program and evaluate its effectiveness — would fail if put to a board vote. A final RAC recommendation — require the General Manager to get board approval for programs not reacting to a specific, credible threat — might well fail as well, though perhaps more narrowly.
A timeline and partial* transcript with speaker summaries is available. As it and the video show, directors Kathy Porter and Tommy Wells asked a number of questions about the program, while directors McKay and Downey were the two principal voices in favor of unquestioned further support of the program and the chief and general manager’s authority to initiate it. Some directors (Hewlett, Hudgins, Benjamin) said that they were personally troubled to varying degrees by the program’s civil liberties infringements, but argued that their role as directors required them to take a different view.
The newly appointed General Manager, Richard Sarles, supplied some previously unknown or not widely known background to the decision to begin the bag searches.
- First, until two or three months ago he and other employees had had the impression that the board had expressly forbidden bag searches. Then he sought clarification about that and was told otherwise.
- Second, Sarles specifically mentioned news of bomber plots in Portland and against the Metro system as triggering his concern. If so, Sarles was unaware of or unimpressed by reports that these plots only occurred with FBI care and feeding.
UPDATE: Individual director statements are now available on an MCCRC YouTube playlist, in chronological order.
* Readers are asked and encouraged to help fill in gaps in the transcript by transcribing more of the discussion and emailing their work to email@example.com. This written record will be useful in further discussions of or with WMATA. For example, many security experts disagree about the wisdom of this kind of suspicionless search program, yet several directors spoke of the bag search program being done on the advice of “security experts”; documenting which directors did so may help build a case for hearing alternative views.