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Boston transit riders face random searches

Transit police will begin randomly searching the bags and packages carried by riders  on Boston’s subways and commuter trains next month, a procedure largely prompted by the train bombings in Spain.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Transit police will begin randomly stopping riders on Boston’s subways and commuter trains next month to search their bags and packages, a procedure transportation officials say was largely prompted by the March 11 train bombings in Spain.

The new policy is set to be in place for July’s Democratic National Convention, MBTA Police Chief Joseph Carter told The Boston Globe for a story in Tuesday editions. It will include explosive-sniffing dogs and all 247 uniformed Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police officers, he said.

“I have no trepidation about being first (in the nation with the policy),” Carter said. “I don’t want to be the first to do an interview about having a serious incident that may have some terrorist indications to it. ... We want to do this to encourage people to feel safe on the MBTA, to utilize public transportation.”

Policy hasn't been announced
Carter said MBTA has not announced the new policy formally because officials still are working out the details on how to balance security and privacy concerns.

Last month, MBTA police announced the entire force has been receiving counterterrorism training that includes spotting suspicious behavior. MBTA police already can request to see the identification of passengers they perceive to be acting suspiciously.

Last month, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration unveiled a pilot program to screen the bags of all passengers at a single Maryland Rail Commuter station in suburban New Carrollton.

MBTA Deputy Police Chief John Martino, who is overseeing the development and implementation of the search policy, said police, sometimes accompanied by explosive-sniffing dogs, will randomly pick out riders for inspection throughout the transit system daily. He said the number of inspections would increase dramatically during the convention July 26-29.

ACLU says plan deeply flawed
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that while she understands the need for security, the MBTA plan is deeply flawed and may violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

“The Fourth Amendment doesn’t stop at your wrist when you carry a briefcase; it includes your bag,” Rose said. “It either has to be truly random, or it has to have a root in a reasonable basis of suspicion.”

The March terror bombings in Madrid, Spain, killed 191 people and were blamed on Islamic militants with possible links to al-Qaida.

Three suspects in the bombings, including an alleged planner, were arrested in Italy and Belgium, authorities in Europe said Tuesday.