Riders unhappy with Metro bag searches

Metro is facing harsh criticism from riders after implementing a controversial bag inspection measure in December to beef up security.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the new bag check policy – based on programs in place in New York and Boston – to improve rider protection by randomly selecting carry-on items for searches at Metro station entrances with Transportation Security Administration officials.

“Inspections of carry-on items can occur any time at any Metrorail station,” Angela Gates, a WMATA information specialist, said. “The inspections are random and we do not give advance notice of when or where they will take place.”

Public sentiment voiced at a Metro Riders’ Advisory Council meeting Jan. 3 reflected dissatisfaction with the policy, with almost all the riders present labeling the searches as invasive, unconstitutional and fruitless, according to The Washington Post.

Most attendants said the measure appears to create a false sense of security and may heighten fear, without actually reducing the risk of an attack on the rail system.

Officers randomize the checks by selecting a number and subjecting customers for inspection based exclusively on that number. For example, every fifth customer with a carry-on item could be inspected.

The inspections – designed to be non-intrusive and brief – use a swath test with “ionization technology” and K9 units trained to detect traces of explosive materials.

Travelers selected for the search who refuse to comply with the inspection process are prohibited from bringing the items into the station.

The first searches were conducted unannounced Dec. 21 at the Braddock Road and College Park stations.

That day, officers received a positive test result on a male passenger’s bag and shot it with radiation.

The man faced an eight-minute inspection, but no evidence of explosive materials was found. As a police sergeant tried to interview the man, he walked away and said that he was going to work.

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concern over the new WMATA policy and sent a letter to WMATA Board officials, expressing concern for “making the transit system more secure without burdening the individual liberties of our citizens.”

The letter also said, “the costs to individual liberty seem to far outweigh what deterring or preventive effect – if any at all – the searches may have on terrorism.”

Two other civil rights groups have also responded to the new procedure. The D.C. Bill of Rights Coalition and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition launched an online petition against the bag checks shortly after the policy was implemented.

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