November 14, 2005

NY police using bomb-detection devices in subways

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police in New York beefed up security
in the city's subways on Monday by using bomb-detection devices
to search passengers' bags on top of the random searches of
backpacks and packages already underway.

With the new devices, police can swab bags for traces of
explosives, then place the samples in high-tech detection
devices without opening the bags, officials said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the devices allow
police to conduct less intrusive searches.

"You don't have to open a bag and you don't have to look
through people's clothing, so it's a major advantage," he said.

New York police are testing 12 of the explosive-detection
devices, which cost $25,000 for a portable device and $50,000
for a desktop version, at several subway stations.

The additional security measure comes after police began
conducting random searches of backpacks and packages in July,
following attacks on the London transit system.

Each search takes less than a minute to complete, police

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference the searches
were "less intrusive and perhaps more accurate" than previous

"We've got to constantly look for ways to step up our
security measures, just as the terrorists have, sadly, around
the world stepped up the technology they use in assaulting our
freedoms to live our lives," the mayor said.

The police commissioner and the city are being sued over
the random searches by the New York Civil Liberties Union,
which claims the practice violates constitutional rights that
protect citizens from being searched without suspicion of
criminal activity.

The case is due to be decided in December.

NYCLU director Donna Lieberman said the devices could be a
"step in the right direction" but said she wanted more
information about the "technology being used and the protocol
the police department develop for using it."

"We have been led to believe they only search the exterior
of the bag, which is less intrusive on people's belongings than
the previous bag searches," she said. But she noted that
similar devices used to search for drugs in prisons have turned
up falsely positive results.