NYPD begins searching bags of transit riders

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Subway riders today accepted with resignation and a measure of skepticism random bag searches that were instituted after a second bomb attack on London's transit system.

At the Woodlawn station in the Bronx, carpenter Pearse Heaney, 36, missed a train because he was stopped by police officers who looked through his bag.

Heaney said he felt the inconvenience was worth the peace of mind. "I'd rather be late than be dead," he said.

At the Lafayette station in Brooklyn, Karl Libby, 39, had a similar take on the new security measures.

"It's only a matter of time before sometimes tries to get a bomb in here," Libby said. "Getting searched is better than getting blown up."

The decision to institute random bag searches makes New York's mass transit network the first in the country where bags are checked without the backdrop of a major political event.

"We just live in a world where, sadly, these kinds of security measures are necessary," a solemn Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in announcing the decision on Thursday, just hours after the first of four minor bombings rocked the British capital.

Some commuters questioned whether the new policy would be effective and whether it was too intrusive.

Troy Dowdy, 43, investment banker who lives in Yonkers, was not happy with the changes as he arrived to catch the subway at the Woodlawn station.

"This is a way for them to take away our liberty," Dowdy said. "Tell everybody to read George Orwell's '1984' to figure out what's going on. … It gives the illusion that we are safe."

David Brown, 26, of Washington D.C., was visiting his girlfriend in Brooklyn. He arrived at the Lafayette station with a roller suitcase, a messenger bag containing a computer and a big bag from Target.

He was searched but said it did not make him feel safer.

"In my mind it created more anxiety and paranoia than safety," Brown said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has blasted the plan, and its leaders said they would consider a suit to halt it.

"Police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to the most basic of constitutional principles," said Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn.

Police officials countered that department lawyers had vetted the checks, which they called no different than the non-controversial bag searches that officers conduct on New Year's Eve revelers in Times Square.

"We will give very specific and detailed instructions to our officers as to how to do it pursuant to the law and the Constitution," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday, adding that officers are instructed to not racially profile the passengers whom they check.

Subway rider Robert Shomo, 49, of Brooklyn said he supported the random bag searches and had gone out of his way to make his commute hassle-free.

"I usually bring a duffle (bag) to work but today I didn't bother," Shomo said. "I wanted to avoid the inconvenience. They should have done this sooner."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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