Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The 2-week-old random bag search being conducted by Metro Transit Police is already facing pushback. The group Flex Your Rights is not only opposed to the searches, but is encouraging the riding public to exercise its 4th Amendment right against “unreasonable search” by refusing to be searched.

On Oct. 27 Metro announced that it would begin pulling aside random passenger to search bags in an effort to thwart terrorist attacks.

Flex Your Rights has issued a “Citizens Guide” to refusal on its Website and members have been handing out flyers at Metro stations. The flyers spell out step-by-step instructions on how to refuse a search. Step one begins with: “Officer, I do not consent to any searches. I’m going to exit the station.” The organization also says: “You do not have to answer any police questions or give any information.” While this sounds provocative and like someone is just itching to get arrested or cause trouble, the group insists that “refusal” is well within the rights of an individual and advises against any physical resistance or confrontation.

We, too, have concerns about Big Brother’s overreach, and in fact opposed some of the city’s “over-the-line” tactics, such as its recent expansion of block-to-block “security” cameras, but this doesn’t qualify as over-reaching.

We understand reasonable requirements must be enacted at times to preserve public safety. Random search programs have become necessary since Sept. 11. We’ve become accustomed to searches at airports, and public rail systems seem to be a next logical step. Such programs have already been instituted - with limited disruption - in Boston. To take an extra 10 seconds to open your bag when asked is not unreasonable.

Metro, which has jurisdiction and arrest powers throughout the 1,500-square-mile transit zone, is not only well within its right to conduct the operation but insists each search takes no more than 8-15 seconds to conduct - posing minimal impact on riders who have nothing to hide and want to easily get on to their destination.

But what Flex is encouraging has the potential to create major disruptions for commuters (imagine if, say, every 10th person decided he or she wasn’t going to be searched). Their tactics also could pose undue health and safety risks to passengers and transit police. If Flex Your Rights members don’t want to be searched, they should ride Metrobus instead of Metrorail.

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