Letters to the Editor

In which are collected letters to the editor in response to ““Metro’s bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat””, whether the Post published them or not.

Jonathan Blanks (unpublished letter, crossposted from his blog “The Blanks Slate“):

In your unsigned editorial “Metro’s bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat,” (March 7), you argued that because bad things happen, Fourth Amendment violations are a necessary nuisance. Tellingly, nowhere in the article is the efficiency or efficacy of the bag checks addressed.

Leaving aside the millions of commuters in the other cities mentioned, 600,000 people per day use the DC Metrorail. If Metro Transit Police stopped just one percent of them on any given day, it would take 50 man-hours to stop 6000 people at the “quick” 30 seconds per stop.

Of course, a terrorist could just as easily attack a throng of people lining up for the gates even before getting to security, as the Moscow airport bomber did in January.

Random checks are, by definition, indiscriminate. Given that these searches are occasional and dispersed, the number of riders stopped is statistically insignificant compared to overall ridership and thus these searches amount to simple security theater.

If WMATA believes this method will catch a terrorist, it should start diverting five dollars a week to the lottery to fix its budget shortfall: it has roughly the same chance of success and doesn’t involve the pesky Fourth Amendment.

In your unsigned editorial “Metro’s bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat,” (March 7), you argued that because bad things happen, Fourth Amendment violations are a necessary nuisance. Tellingly, nowhere in the article is the efficiency or efficacy of the bag checks addressed.

Leaving aside the millions of commuters in the other cities mentioned, 600,000 people per day use the DC Metrorail. If Metro Transit Police stopped just one percent of them on any given day, it would take 50 man-hours to stop 6000 people at the “quick” 30 seconds per stop.

Of course, a terrorist could just as easily attack a throng of people lining up for the gates even before getting to security, as the Moscow airport bomber did in January.

Random checks are, by definition, indiscriminate. Given that these searches are occasional and dispersed, the number of riders stopped is statistically insignificant compared to overall ridership and thus these searches amount to simple security theater.

If WMATA believes this method will catch a terrorist, it should start diverting five dollars a week to the lottery to fix its budget shortfall: it has roughly the same chance of success and doesn’t involve the pesky Fourth Amendment.

Brian Romer (published 3/13/2011)

The Post was correct to note that Metro is a potential terrorist target [“Metro’s bag checks,” editorial, March 8]. And random bag checks at bus stops and rail stations may be constitutional. In view of these facts, The Post called these searches a “necessary nuisance.”

Nuisance, yes. Necessary? Well, that would depend on whether such random searches have the potential to actually deter plotters. I cannot understand why security personnel are so convinced of this. Unlike searches at airports and sports venues, these transit searches are random, i.e., “occasional.” I suspect that a plotter planning an attack at a particular place and time would proceed anyway, on the assumption that the odds of encountering a bag check were low. And what if the terrorist stumbles upon a search? In most cases, it seems to me, he would simply avoid the search site and in most places do so without exhibiting suspicious behavior that would attract the attention of surveillance personnel.

There are measures that security personnel can take to reduce the risk of an attack, but random searches do not appear to meet any reasonable test of effectiveness. Sure, if I should be subjected to one, it is likely I would submit, since failing to do so not only would cancel my travel plans but could be interpreted as “suspicious behavior” with who knows what possible adverse consequences for me. Meanwhile, I would have the rare opportunity to watch my tax dollars being wasted.

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