BOSTON – Gov. Mitt Romney earlier this month directed the MBTA to re-institute regular random bag inspections on the public transit system in order to shake up normal routines and make it more difficult to plan and carry out a potential terrorist act.
The MBTA conducted random bag searches for a limited time before and during the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
“Terrorism is not a traditional criminal activity,” Romney said. “We are fighting a war against people who have as their objective the overthrow of the United States government. Given that kind of threat, we have to adjust our homeland security strategies to confront it.”
In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York upheld a decision that bag inspections on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority do not violate an individual’s Constitutional rights. Following the London subway bombings of July 2005, New York had instituted a policy that was based on the MBTA’s random bag inspection program used during the DNC.
“This is a proactive step to enhance security on the MBTA,” said Transportation Secretary John Cogliano. “Customers have the right to expect that we will do all in our power to ensure their safety.”
The federal appeals court found that random bag inspections do not violate the Fourth Amendment if they are based on a “special need” to conduct inspections without a warrant and are tailored to protect the rights of individual riders. Accordingly, riders receive general notice of the program; inspections focus on baggage large enough to carry explosives; the inspection is of short duration; the inspection is conducted in the open; and people to be inspected are selected via a predetermined cycle (such as one out of every five or one out of every nine).
The inspections are conducted using equipment that examines a “swab” of the zipper, seams or handle of a bag to detect any traces of explosive material. The technology does not require that bags be opened, although such a request can be made if warranted, and the tests can be done in a less than one minute, minimizing impacts on T riders.
In addition to the random inspections, Romney said that the MBTA Transit Police will be implementing high-visibility “impact teams” trained in anti-terrorism and behavioral recognition techniques. These teams will patrol in tactical uniforms in order to increase police visibility and bolster anti-terrorism efforts.
”The MBTA Transit Police Department views random security inspections as a vital element in our continued efforts to deter, detect, and prevent a terrorist incident on the transit system,” Transit Police Chief Joseph Carter said. “Transit Police supervisors and officers are particularly trained to ensure inspections follow strict protocol and are conducted respectfully and expeditiously.”
– Special to Railfanning.org News Wire