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Boston Transit Searches Planned

June 09, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — In a direct response to the March train bombings in Spain that killed 191 people, transit authorities here will begin random searches of passenger bags on subways and commuter railways.

The nation's first comprehensive policy of inspecting packages on public transit will start next month, Police Chief Joseph Carter of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said Tuesday.

"Explosives are mainly what we are looking for," said Carter, whose agency is known in this region as "the T."

Carter said the searches would be random -- perhaps administered on a numerical basis.

"Let's say hypothetically that it would be every seventh person," he said. "If you were 90 [years old] or you were 9, and you had a bag and you were that seventh person, that bag would be inspected."

But Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said she questioned how random the inspections really would be.

"Random means no discretion," Rose said Tuesday. "More likely, it will become the basis for stopping people who are wearing clothes you don't like, who look like they are homeless or who have some other look that the authorities don't like. It becomes a basis for violating people's civil liberties."

Rose said her larger concern was that the search policy "is not going to make us any safer. It is going to take away liberty without adding security. If this search policy is truly random, then the statistical possibility of catching a terrorist when you are blanketing an entire metropolitan area is very, very minimal."

About 1 million passengers ride Boston-area subways and commuter trains each day.

The inspections are set to begin shortly before thousands of visitors descend on Boston for the July 26-29 Democratic National Convention. Regional commuters already are alarmed because many key roads will be closed while the convention is in session at the Fleet Center, an auditorium that faces onto one of the area's busiest arteries.

Carter said inspections would be stepped up during the convention. He said the number of bomb-sniffing dogs deployed would be increased from four to six. He also said packages may be barred from trains and subways during the convention.

Carter said the new measures "obviously" result from the March 11 bombings in Madrid.

"We have been doing a number of things since 9/11, but 3/11 underscores for all of us how vulnerable public transportation, and particularly our rail systems, are to terrorism," he said.

Carter added: "At the T, we are not going to sit back and wait for an incident. We are doing everything we can to prevent an incident from occurring."

Carter said 5,000 transit employees would be trained in "device recognition" and what to do if explosives were found.

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