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Metro police say one of their major functions is as a deterrent.

The rarity with which officers encounter serious altercations, though, has sometimes led to apparent overreactions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is pursuing two cases against the transit police involving excessive or unnecessary use of force, one after officers knocked a wheelchair-bound man out of his chair on U Street Northwest and arrested the man’s friend who questioned their actions. Prosecutors dropped charges against the friend, Lawrence Miller, whom the ACLU is now representing in a civil case.

Metro police charged the wheelchair-bound man with assault on an officer, but those charges were also dropped.

The MTPD is set to have its numbers swell as 1,000 more positions are added within the transit agency, some going to the police.

The minimal basic enforcement has not stopped the transit police from engaging in high-profile displays of force and security, in part a result of $3 million per year in counterterrorism funds it receives as a reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The measures include periodic checkpoints, where police post at an entrance to a Metro station and check random customers’ bags for explosives.

“The ACLU believes it’s costly and ineffective and that we’d prevail in a court challenge,” said senior staff attorney Fritz Mulhuaser.

Civil liberties questions aside, critics say, the checks do not prohibit a would-be terrorist from simply using another entrance to the station