- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

Police unions are offering lobbying muscle to push for language in a bill that would protect rail and airline passengers who report suspicious activities from being sued.

The support is concurrent with similar legislation introduced in the New York state Assembly last week to ban such lawsuits in state courts.

“When it comes to suspicious, potentially terrorist activity, New Yorkers are encouraged, ‘If you see something, say something,’ but before they do so, they have a right to know that they will not be sued for their efforts,” said Assemblyman Rory I. Lancman, Queens Democrat.

Police unions say their officers cannot be everywhere to see everything and stop every crime. They offered their support in letters to Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican and author of language added to a rail- and transportation-safety bill to protect airline passengers from lawsuits.

A pending lawsuit filed by a group of Muslim imams targets passengers named as “John Does” who reported that the men acted suspiciously, which resulted in their removal from a U.S. Airways flight.

“Now that our nation is engaged in a global war on terror, it is even more important for citizens to feel that they can report suspicious activity to law enforcement and have that information be used appropriately and in good faith by law enforcement or security personnel,” said Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Such lawsuits are clearly being used to intimidate witnesses, and it is altogether appropriate that Congress protect them from these frivolous suits,” Mr. Canterbury said. “Doing the right thing should not get you hauled into court.”

The federal bill, stalled in a conference committee, provides immunity from civil liability for airline passengers who report suspicious behavior in good faith.

“This legislation, tragically, is rooted in the realities of current events,” said Dennis Slocumb, vice president of the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO.

Being fearful of civil penalties discourages such reporting and hampers the efforts of those charged with protecting the public,” Mr. Slocumb wrote.

The Freedom to Report Terrorism Act in New York protects “good-faith disclosures of suspicious, potentially terrorist activity, and requires those who file lawsuits alleging bad-faith disclosures to detail the alleged bad faith with particularity at the outset of the lawsuit, thereby establishing a very high procedural hurdle to commencing a lawsuit.”

“Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening to airplane passengers in Minnesota, who alerted airline personnel to what they perceived to be suspicious activity on the part of six other passengers,” Mr. Lancman said. “Such lawsuits dissuade honest citizens from reporting suspicious, potentially terrorist activity.”

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