July 21, 2005

NY police to search backpacks on transit system

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Commuters on New York subways will be
subjected to random searches of backpacks and packages, New
York police said on Thursday just hours after the second attack
on London's transit system in two weeks.

The additional security measure comes after four small
coordinated explosions hit London's bus and underground train
network, injuring one person, exactly two weeks after bombers
killed more than 50 people in the British capital.

A leading civil liberties group said random searches ran
counter to the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which
prohibits "unreasonable searches" without "probable cause."

Security on New York's transit system had already been
stepped up since the July 7 bombings in London, when three
subway trains and a bus were targeted by suicide bombers.

Stressing there was no new threat against the city's
transit system, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told
reporters that the searches would take place mostly at subway
stations and possibly as people board city buses.

"We will be instituting random searches of packages and
backpacks as people enter the transit system," Kelly said,
adding that "no racial profiling will be allowed."

But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York
Civil Liberties Union, said, "The Fourth Amendment prohibits
police from conducting searches where there is no suspicion of
criminal activity."

"One of the dangers of random searches is that they can
invite the possibility of racial, ethnic or religious
profiling," she said, adding that the plan would inconvenience
people "as police go about finding a needle in a haystack."

Kelly said most searches would take place before passengers
passed through turnstiles, but there would also be searches on
subway platforms and on trains.

A Quinnipiac University poll on Wednesday revealed that 72
percent of New Yorkers fear an attack like the July 7 bombings
in London would occur in New York.

New York has been on high alert for another attack since
the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks which felled the
World Trade Center twin towers and killed nearly 3,000 people.

The initiative is just the latest to protect New York's
subway system, which averages 4.5 million riders on weekdays.
Last week Kelly said police officers would approach commuters
and tell them how to spot a potential suicide bomber.

"We just live in a world where sadly these kinds of
security measures are necessary," said New York Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, who often rides the subway to work.

"Are they intrusive? Yes, a little bit, but we are trying
to find that right balance between making sure that terrorists
are off guard," he said.

Bloomberg said the searches would be restricted to the
transit system and New Yorkers should not expect random
searches while walking on city streets.

"We don't have any plans to stop people walking down the
street. We probably don't have the legal right to do it,"
Bloomberg said.