- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When Metro Transit Police announced the new random search program at Metro stations and bus stops, many in the D.C. area naturally were concerned about the legal and practical implications of the policy. Flex Your Rights saw an opportunity to remind citizens of their constitutional rights during a period of heightened public interest in police search powers.

We produced fliers informing Metro passengers of their Fourth Amendment right to refuse random search requests. We explain that individuals who decline a search will be permitted to leave the station or bus stop immediately. We emphasize the need to remain calm and courteous when interacting with Metro police and to share any concerns through the appropriate channels.

So why would we help facilitate noncooperation with a public safety program? Many citizens are unfamiliar with their basic rights when approached by police. In our efforts to provide simple know-your-rights information to the public, we have encountered a common misconception that post-Sept. 11 security measures have invalidated Fourth Amendment rights during everyday interactions with police. We believe it’s vitally important that Americans understand and appreciate their constitutional right to refuse a search.

The Washington Times has been the most notable public critic of our response. Citing the possibility of widespread refusals of consent, The Times argued on Nov. 12, “Their tactics… could pose undue health and safety risks to passengers and transit police” (“Just say ‘no’ to Metro searches? No,” Editorial).

Flex Your Rights shouldn’t be blamed for the various glaring weaknesses of the program. We carefully modeled our recommendations after information already available from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, with added emphasis on politeness toward police. The only significant difference between our information and Metro’s was our admitted frustration with the policy and our active distribution of the flier.

Thus, we’re confident that our reiteration of the optional nature of the search program will create no additional safety risks for anyone. Metro officials told NBC News that our information was “helpful and accurate.”

So, as much as we regret the possibility of having to prove our innocence before being able to board the bus, Metro at least respects our interest in making sure that passengers understand their rights. In turn, we respect Metro’s interest in protecting the public. We just don’t believe random searches are the answer.

SCOTT MORGAN

Associate director

Flex Your Rights

Washington

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