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Tuesday, Oct. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET

Metro Transit's Top Cop Discusses New Search Policy

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Michael Taborn
Chief, Metro Transit Police
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 2:30 PM

Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn was online Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m. ET to take your questions about the department's new policy of inspecting bags for explosives.

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The transcript follows.

Metro to Conduct Random Bag Inspections

(Post, Oct. 27)

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Michael Taborn: Good afternoon. Thank you for your interest in and questions about Metro's Security Inspection Program, which I announced yesterday. The purpose of these inspections is to deter terroirst attacks in our system. This is yet another layer of security that we are putting in place to protect Metro's 1.2 million daily riders, employees and facilities.

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Falls Church, Va.: Under what legal authority do Metro Police have in subjecting individuals to random searches? What federal law or state laws authorize these searches?

Michael Taborn: Legal authority to inspect packages brought into mass transit systems and other venues has been upheld by the courts in numerous jurisdictions. Metro's inspection program is very similar to the one conducted in the subway system in New York City. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has specifically ruled on the constitutionality of the New York program in MacWade v. Kelly.

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Alexandria, Va.: What items will be specifically prohibited?

What size knives are allowed? (e.g. I carry a Gerber Tool Knife with various blades and tools)

What about people who shop and go home with flammable items (paint canisters, cooking oil and lighters).

If items are surrendered, is their going to be a way for a customer to retrieve these later?

Michael Taborn: The purpose of WMATA's Security Inspection Program is to increase the security on Metrorail and Metrobus. Security inspections are primarily designed to detect explosives. Only those items capable of concealing explosives will be searched. However, if during the course of a search contraband is discovered, the contraband will be seized and the possessor of the contraband will be subject to prosecution. Whether a particular item is contraband may depend on the nature of the item, its intended use, and the law of the relevant jurisdiction. Metro's Security Inspection Program does not alter federal, state or local legislation. If you are unsure of whether a particular item is contraband, you should seek legal advice.

As mentioned, the puspose of the program is to detect explosive material.

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Washington, DC: Chief-

How will this work when they try to do a search of someone about to board a bus? Will the bus be held while the person is searched? If not, it could be a real hardship for the rider being searched, and if so, then this will surely play havoc with bus schedules and the commuting schedules of the other riders. Are these delays just something you've decided, quite arbitrarily I might add, to make riders "live with" as part of the cost of public transportation? Just curious...

Michael Taborn: Any inspection at a bus stop will be done before the bus arrives. We do not intend to hold a bus while we're inspecting items. Inspections should only take about 15 seconds and the idea is not to inspect everyone before they get on a bus. We ask our riders to cooperate with the officers to minimize any inconvenience.

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Washington, D.C.: Will they be cracking down on other things when they do these searches (besides drugs and weapons) -- like food/drinks?

Michael Taborn: The purpose of the inspections is to look for explosives or other dangerous devices. We will not be checking for food and drinks. But I'd like to remind customers that eating and drinking is prohibited in the Metro system. You can carry the items on board, but cannot consume them.

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Rockville, Md.: How much was the decision to implement this program influenced by the upcoming election (regardless of who wins), and the inauguration in January?

Michael Taborn: The upcoming election and the inauguration in January are major national events and that play an important role in our decision.

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Washington, D.C.: Can I decline the search? What happens if I do?

Michael Taborn: You may decline the search, but you will not be permitted to enter the station with your carry-on items.

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Baltimore: If I refuse to have my bag searched and opt instead to return my bag to my car or office, am I allowed to re-enter the station (without my bag)?

Michael Taborn: Yes.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi, thanks for taking questions on this important policy shift. Can you tell us how many times have the searches in the New York City and Boston systems have discovered any credible evidence of sabotage or terrorism, such as explosives?

Michael Taborn: Unfortunately, we cannot provide numbers for the programs in New York and Boston. But there is a growing consensus in the transit industry that these inspections are a valuable security initiative.

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Washington, D.C.: Will the names of people searched be recorded/stored?

Michael Taborn: No.

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Washington, D.C.: No problem; glad the Metro police will be searching bags, backpacks, etc. The U.S. is becoming so dangerous we need to take precautions whenever possible. If you have nothing to hide then the search should not offend you.

Michael Taborn: Thanks very much for your support.

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Silver Spring, MD: People don't approach metro station entrances in single file. So how can you really count off every 17th (or whatever) person? That just seems like a handy excuse to have ready when you get caught engaging in profiling.

Michael Taborn: We can do adequate job of counting passengers as they enter a station.

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Green Line Rider: If you're not going to search every single person coming into a Metro station, how is the policy effective? Anyone with illicit substances will simply refuse to be searched and go to another station. If you don't search everyone, then it's not worth doing. If you do search everyone, then you'll probably lose half your ridership out of frustration with the delays (think security lines at the airport). Why not just take those officers and put them more visibly on the platforms and in the trains/busses?

I certainly will think twice about riding Metro if I'm going to be randomly selected. I consider that an infringement of my rights for no apparent gain in security.

Michael Taborn: Legal authority to inspect packages brought into mass transit systems and other venues has been upheld by the courts in numerous jurisdictions. Metro's inspection program is very similar to the one conducted in the subway system in New York City. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has specifically ruled on the constitutionality of the New York program in MacWade v. Kelly.

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Rockville, Md.: How is Metro's budget changing to accommodate the cost of this program?

Michael Taborn: The only monies needed for the program are manpower hours. We're not hiring additional officers for the inspection program. We're deploying officers already on the force for the inspection program.

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Washington, D.C.: How can they stop every 15th or 17th or 21st person? People enter in mobs, not single-file lines. Also, if the transit police stop someone who isn't the "every 15th person" or whatever, couldn't that person refuse because they weren't chosen randomly? Can you ask them to prove to you that you were the next person in the preset formula?

Michael Taborn: A supervisor will designate one officer with the specific task of counting the passengers as they enter the station.

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Guns on Metro?:: Will these Metro police be carrying weapons? I read that dogs are being trained, but what kinds of weapons will officers be carrying/wearing?

Michael Taborn: Yes. They are sworn tri-state police officers who carry weapons on a daily basis as part of thier jobs.

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Washington, D.C.: I am opposed to these searches and plan on refusing any Metro officer's request to go through my bags. Because I'll be allowed to refuse search and turn around without being detained, I will simply enter the Metro through another escalator or elevator. How do you plan on addressing this loophole?

Michael Taborn: You may choose not to be searched and leave the station with your bags or other items. We do have a plan to address suspicious behavior.

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Alexandria, Va.: Clarify how you are not violating the Fourth Amendment.

Michael Taborn: This is a consent search.

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Washington, D.C.: Where do the searches take place? (Before/after the turnstiles, on platforms, entry/exit, etc.?) How long does each search take? Are there time limits on the duration of the search?

Michael Taborn: Inspection points will be at station entrances or bus areas before patrons pay a fare to enter the station or board a bus.

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Michael Taborn: Thank you for all of your comments. I hope you have reviewed our frequently asked questions on our Web site. Our intent is to provide the riding public with the safety and security they expect.

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