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July 29, 2005

New York subway searches
Posted by Teresa at 04:49 PM * 47 comments

In the wake of the London bombings, people using the NYC subways are now subject to random bag checks. This is stupid and useless—the appearance of security, not the real thing—but it could be worse.

Some days ago, Patrick observed a couple of NYPD officers in our subway station. One had a little handheld counting-clicker. Day before yesterday, I observed the same thing, so I stopped and asked the officers about it. They confirmed my suspicion: the NYPD is making an effort to make the bag checks genuinely random.

Granted, it’s not perfect. There are holes. And in a sufficiently busy station, it would still be possible to do racial profiling. But someone in the NYPD understands why non-random random checks are a problem.

Comments on New York subway searches:
#1 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 05:12 PM:

It's started in Boston too, I think. I take the D line home from Houghton every day. This week I noticed pairs of cops at the top of the stairs. I carry a heavy bag with me all the time, and I was tempted to stop and ask them if they wanted to check it.

(When I've just had my hair cut, I do look a bit on the fanatic side.)

#2 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 05:33 PM:

While here in DC, which one might argue is a highly probable target, we just have jersey barriers and foreboding announcements and, yes, creepy posters.

Can't say I mind the lack of useless security measures here, but considering I spend 10+ hours a day sitting atop one of the busier Metro stations, I guess I'd appreciate some useful security.

#3 ::: Owlmirror ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 05:37 PM:

Just in case anyone was curious:

The Citizen's Guide to Refusing New York Subway Searches

(via boingboing)


Schneier on Security

#4 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 06:26 PM:

A recent article in my local paper quotes someone who more or less explicitly advocates security-in-appearance-only:

Roaming armed police officers and dozens of sniffing dogs need to be deployed at Pearson International Airport, an expert on aviation terrorism says. Putting these measures in place not only would make passengers feel safer, but also would send a strong message to would-be terrorists, Gunnar Kuepper said yesterday.

Shouldn't we be working on ways to make passengers be safer, and to thwart would-be terrorists? Strong messages are all very well, but....

#5 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 06:52 PM:

John Farrell:
It's started in Boston too, I think. I take the D line home from Houghton every day. This week I noticed pairs of cops at the top of the stairs. I carry a heavy bag with me all the time, and I was tempted to stop and ask them if they wanted to check it.

I suspect that would have struck them as more suspicious than the heavy bag alone.

I don't live in New York, but this really bugged me when I heard about it. I posted in Deb Green's newsgroup on SFF.Net:
And the real catch is that it's easy to get upset about this stuff in theory, but in practice, on an individual level, the pragmatic decision is always in favor of authority. I'll be honest, I surely wouldn't fight it either. "I can stand here for a minute and get my privacy invaded, then be on my way, or I can raise a fuss and at the very least give up the idea of getting where I was going. At the worst I'll end up in the kind of trouble that isn't documented in public records. I guess I've got a minute."

#6 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 07:03 PM:

Michael - My first reaction was that the poster had to be a clever hoax, but it appears to be genuine.

I can't believe this whole thing surfaced two months ago and I'm just now seeing it! Boy am I out of the loop.

#7 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 07:20 PM:

I thought it had to be something like that. They said it was like every 5 or every 10 people. I wanted to tell them they should make it every 17 or something (to make it harder to figure out).

At least they're trying to implement a stupid policy in an intelligent way.

#8 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 08:38 PM:

Those posters look like the cover of an Ayn Rand novel.

#9 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 08:50 PM:

The foreboding announcement I heard in a DC metro station went something like "Help prevent incidents like the London bombings from happening here. Report unattended luggage." That was the gist of it.

#10 ::: Hannah Wolf Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 09:00 PM:

I've seen the cops in the Boston stations (and the bomb-sniffer dogs! yay bomb-sniffer dogs!), but I've yet to see them try to check anybody's bags (or do anything other than give directions).

#11 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 09:29 PM:

For years there's been signs put up by the various San Francisco transit agencies exhorting people to be vigilant and report suspicious packages. I've always had mixed feelings about 'em. On the one hand, I think having the general population be alert and on the lookout is a Good Thing - mainly because of muggers, to be honest, I worry a lot more about petty crime than about terrorist attacks. On the other hand, it's not clear to me that this kind of ad campaign really produces anything more than low-grade anxiety and unease along the lines of the infamous fnords.

Also, the major visible "heightened security" measure since the London bombings has been that BART closed all its station bathrooms (the underground stations had had theirs closed since 9/11). This strikes me as a transparent excuse to lay off some janitors, and I don't like it at all.

#12 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 11:19 PM:

Q. Pheevr --

Note that the source for that article is an American who operates a security firm. Of course they're in favour of a large visibly hostile presence at Pearson; it's an untapped market.

I have been highly unimpressed with the behavior of the Canadian security services since September 11, 2001, to the point where I'd cheerfully advocate the complete abolition of both CSIS and the RCMP. (If most of them aren't willing to torture Canadian citizens, they're also willing to lie to defend the few who are indeed willing.)

But at least the idea that airport security should be as stupid as possible hasn't made it up here yet.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 29, 2005, 11:26 PM:

Michael, Larry -- those posters are for real? I saw them online when they first came out, but it didn't seem possible that they could be an official campaign. It's nice seeing a graphic artist make a comment like that and get away with it, but I'm amazed that no one who had to sign off on the design noticed its overtones.

Xopher, no way are they checking five out of ten. And did you see the article about how the search is voluntary, and that if you come into a station and see that they're conducting bag checks, you'll be free to walk back out and take alternate transportation? This is Potemkin security.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 12:48 AM:

Graydon -- Bruce Schneier is also an "American who operates a security firm", and by what's cited here comes down on the other side of the question. It ain't that simple. Bruce is an excellent example of an Honorable Man.

I've actually reported an unattended package at an airport -- a styrofoam container sealed with duct tape. The owner came back while the police were looking at it, and told them it was frozen fish from his trip to Alaska. And he got no more than a warning, as far as I could tell. To me, it looked just that bit more suspicious than the average bag o' garbage that so many leave behind.

Or I could tell you about the panel truck at the Pride Celebration in SF which someone abandoned after telling me he was with Homeland Security. That one got five bicycle cops and the folks he was trying to load out (early) very annoyed....

I will not reveal the airline he was volunteering with. But he apparently thought I should have had a bit more sense of humor about the Homeland Security thing....

#15 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 12:53 AM:

The most suspicious piece of luggage I've ever encountered in an airport was a small cloth bag that moved by itself. It turned out to be housing a small dog.

I'll emphasize Xopher's point, and reiterate why a random process is superior to profiling: anything else could be gamed by the bad guys.

#16 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 01:04 AM:

That poster looks like a cropped version of this one.

There were a lot of poster reproductions being sold as souvenirs in Moscow.

#17 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 04:28 AM:

Yeah, I suppose it's better than 'we're going to randomly search people, particularly random brown people carrying backpacks'.

#18 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 05:42 AM:


Many thanks for the Russia pictures! I spoke with some tourists in Paris who had just been to St. Petersburg and they complained about poor viewing conditions at the Hermitage - true, IYO? It looked swell to me - and thanks for the Rembrandt.

PS - your poster link doesn't work as of 5:30 EDT.

#19 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 07:51 AM:

I hauled the kids through Metro North and the NYC subway system to the American Museum of Natural History Thursaday and was surprised to see very little in the way of increased security.

On the other hand, I took the kids to the beach at Croton Point Park yesterday. It may be because the park has a view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, or it may be because the county was concerned about the possibility of drunk, rowdy teenagers. But there was abundant security at the park, including guys in military fatigues guarding what looked like a side road leading into the Metro North train yards.

We drove in and I paid the rather steep eight bucks to park. On paper, there is a nature center there, but it was closed even though I thought the sign listed hours that suggested it would be open. That having not panned out, I got the kids in their bathing suits and took them to the "swimming beach." No one else was there, except about 100 Canadian geese, nearly as many ducks, and one shy blue heron. The beach was covered with goose poop. There were lifeguard chairs and a roped off area for the lifeguards to guard, but no lifeguards in evidence.

Elizabeth chased off the geese, and Peter found fairly quickly that there were little crabs in the water and set about catching them. There was a snack bar building that was boarded up and fenced off, and a building clearly meant to house changing rooms and showers which looked like it had been closed for years bearing a sign that it was being rennovated. The situation was pretty sad, since clearly if the beach had people on it in the summer on a daily basis, it wouldn't be covered with goose poop.

I managed to avoid having a conversation with the first cop who came by on beach patrol, because Elizabeth took her water shoes off at just that moment, and I didn't want her running around on goose poop in bare feet. When the second one came by about half an hour later, he informed us that "swimming" was not allowed without a lifeguard present; from the way it was phrased it seemed that what Peter was doing, looking for crabs in ankle-deep water, constitued swimming. The guy was clearly trying to be nice; these were just the rules, it seemed. There are a couple of other beach-like areas in the park, but it seemed to me that if the same cop caught us "swimming" on a different beach, I might really be in trouble. So we packed up and went home.

(Also, it occured to me while we were there that if the Health Department came out and tested the water at that particular spot, they might close it for health reasons because of contamination caused by the abundant poop.)

I had only ever been to the park before during the Clearwater music festival, which gives it a rather different ambiance. But without the festival, it had a very police state ambiance. Homeland Security: keeing America safe from little boys catching small crabs at the beach.

The situation was clearly the result of a collision between budget cuts for parks systems and the emergent Homeland Security infrastructure. I don't think we'll be going there again any time soon.

#20 ::: jGraydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 08:52 AM:

Tom --

Bruce Schneier doesn't run the sort of security firm that sells you the services of the grumpy looking guys (I have seen actual grim, ok?) and the dogs, and the fellow quoted does.

This is something I should have noted in my original post; the fellow being quoted runs the sort of firm that provides the kinds of services he says Pearson needs more of.

More generally, Schneier is a voice in the wilderness -- a very smart voice, to be sure, but still off in the wilderness even around issues of computer security.

Pretty much the entire American governmental apparatus, from the feds on down to the municipal level, are embracing 'dealing with my dick-shrinkage issues any way I can' reactions to fear.

Fear-driven submission -- whether to silly, useless regulations in the work place, to violations of privacy and dignity when travelling, or to sharply constrained access to choice based on ethnicity, gender, or parental social station -- is the common goal of the leadership of both supposed sides in the "War on Terror".

To the extent that the leadership of each side recognizes this, they're on the same side.

The guys with the flak vests and the guns and the dogs at the train station, usually not; the likelyhood of them being unhappy to have their dick-shrinkage issues addressed is low, but they really would take everybody being actually safer over everybody actually obeying more. (For their purposes and scale, most people obey enough most of the time anyway. They're not trying to arrange a war or do anything to the global economy.)

The desire for fear driven submission is a position of helplessness and incompetence; anybody who ever asks for it is at least one of an idiot and an incompetent, and don't bet against "liar" and "poltroon" in the bargain.

Bruce Schneier quite clearly knows that; it's the doubt on that point throughout most of the rest of the world that I have a problem with. (And this is the precise issue around which I'm thinking it's time to abolish the RCMP and CSIS and start again.)

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 09:47 AM:

We have more 'cosmetic' security in LA also, mostly on the subways in the form of more copos, real and rental, and occasional dogs. At Union Station, this makes sense: the subway station is under the heavy-rail platform access tunnel, with the platforms above that. Take out Union, and a large part of regional transpo goes down - we had a wires-on-tracks incident a few years back that shut things upstairs for a couple of hours, in the afternoon.
On the other hand, Thursday morning there was some unattended luggage in a peculiar location at the train station I ride from, and the rent-a-cop, when he noticed it, called the cops. Who called the bomb squad and cleared the station. (It was actually someone's luggage.) What I keep wondering is, was the luggage there when the first train of the day went through: if so why wasn't it called in then, and if not why didn't the rent-a-cop notice whoever put it there? (It was not hidden, and could be seen from both ends of the building and about 200 feet of the walk that separates the building from the platform.) Not that answers will be forthcoming.

#22 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 09:59 AM:

Xopher, no way are they checking five out of ten. And did you see the article about how the search is voluntary, and that if you come into a station and see that they're conducting bag checks, you'll be free to walk back out and take alternate transportation? This is Potemkin security.

Oh, of course it is. But you misread me. I said every five or every ten they STOP someone. (So like "seven...eight...nine...excuse me, sir, step over here.") I don't imagine it's even that many, frankly. And if people who are stopped can just walk out of the station...well, there's always another entrance, and if you waited ten minutes, do you really think you'd be recognized even by the same cop? Maybe, but...

Now random bag searches which were done the way random drunk checks are done -- with no option to refuse, and the cops giving chase with great seriousness even if someone tries to turn and go another way -- might be somewhat effective. But New Yorkers wouldn't stand for that, especially since the cops are busting people if they find e.g. a joint in a bag search.

#23 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 10:43 AM:


"This is something I should have noted in my original post..." -- precisely the point I wished to make, and we are in agreement thereafter. Since, I believe, Bruce reads this (or at least folks who know him well and talk to him regularly read this!), and he was quoted here -- we need to support the voices in the wilderness when we agree with them.

#24 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 12:57 PM:

A friend of mine was flying his family from DC to Europe last year I think. They got to the airport five hours or so before their flight took off and when they checked in they asked if they could leave the airport to feed the kids and come back again later. Security said fine no problem and then said that the five-year-old girl had been chosen for the random searches so to leave some extra time for that as they planned out when to come back from eating.

Let's say my friend was actually a terrorist with nefarious plans. Now that he knew they were going to search his daughter he could choose to just not come back to the airport at all, reschedule for another day. Or I suppose whatever awful substance she was hypothetically carrying could be passed on to another member of the family or taken back home to be given to another member of their cell.

More Potemkin security in action.

#25 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 01:09 PM:

Tom --

I agree with supporting the voices in the wilderness; I am not at all sure that the existence of, generously, three of them, make the appropriate default for 'American who operates a security firm' clueful, or even might not be an idiot, however glad I am that the exceptions exist.

(If they didn't exist I'd have to start postulating the alien space bats.)

#26 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 03:26 PM:

Dan, last week you could *report* suspicious packages in the Metro, but they wouldn't do anything about it. WashPost article on what happened.

#27 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 10:01 PM:

Well, having found myself on the delightful new "watched list" because I have an overly common name, when asked if there was anything I could do about it, Southwest told me--"told me" here meaning "earnestly entreated"--to write my Representative. Mentioned that I'd been there, done that, hadn't gotten a response as yet, and they suggested if I had time to go park myself in my rep's local office and ask annoying questions.

Got home to find that redistricting has made me get bumped back from Zoe Lofgren to Mike Honda, so I'm going to be going to his office and not hers. When I get the time.

Having to deal with the "watched list" nonsense threatened to make me late for my sister's wedding, and I probably would have been if I hadn't been pushy to the Southwest clerks on my flight back for that.

#28 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 10:26 PM:

This type of security is necessary if we wish to maintain a free society as paradoxical as that sounds.
In light of the horrible thing that fortunately did not happen on 9/11 and the horrible horrendous loss of life this should not be taken lightly.
To be honest I take a backpack around with me all the time so we shall see....
At least everything is in check for the moment but remember the Republican convention and remember who stayed away from the subways at that time. I remember being able to drive to work in 10 minutes down the empty West Side highway at rush hour.
So remember what too much control can do the next time you sit in traffic or on a stopped train.

#29 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2005, 10:31 PM:

Well, at least the true-random security generally practiced by the NYPD since they got serious (really) is not vulnerable to the Carnival Game. Doesn't mean it's otherwise gameable, say by freely refusing, exiting the subway and reentering at the next entrance, which, under the rules, you are free to do, I intend to do, and I suggest (I do not advise -- I can't advise. IANALY) my friends do on general principle.

Because this is really just stupid.

#30 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 12:08 AM:

I wonder how many NY'ers have figured out that the easiest way to avoid being checked is not to carry those stupid, overbearing, rude backpacks around in the first place. Those riders who've been swiped repeatedly by careless backpack-wearers (a relatively new phenomenon, about as recent as ubiquitous cell phones) may not be happy about the Fourth Amendment issues, but we're not all that upset that backpacks are the target...

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 02:31 AM:

Mike -- it does sound paradoxical, and I'm not convinced it's true, particularly given the track record of American administrations around actually dealing with the problems of terrorism.

Translation -- I think you've been sold a bill of goods. The probability of this type of search turning up a real bomb is very low, compared to the probability of ending up on a train with a bomb that got past them.

We're intelligent folks here. What, given Bruce Schneier's excellent formulation, would actually work to cut down on the probability of a terrorist incident (and I'd like to see a serious cost-benefit analysis on any projected method)? How much do we cut this probability down by engaging in second-level preventative measures (e.g., trying to stop pissing off folks who might become terrorists) as compared to how much do we gain by removing the civil liberties that some of us think define the US Way of Life? Please cite studies or mark your answers as your own opinion/WAG. My WAG -- the secondary work will be much more effective in the 2-5 year range than the current approach. And I admit it's a WAG (wild-assed guess).

#32 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 08:25 AM:

People may start dressing and packing for the subway the way they do for airline travel.

#33 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 10:15 AM:

John - ah, that's what the people at Park were there for. I thought the security was beefed up, but I thought it would be only for a few days after the first London underground bombing. Do you know how long they're supposed to stay there? The main problem I've seen is that they congregate in groups right near the door and block traffic.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 11:07 AM:

Mike, Tom --

Terrorism is impossible to stop by means of material proscriptions in an industrial society. There's so much energy lying around in one form or another and no realistic possibility of regulating all of it so that the means are always to hand.

The mechanisms that do work involve reducing the social acceptability of the acts in the population producing the terrorists and in cutting off the money supply; these are a combination of very traditional police work and outright social justice issues.

Searches on the subway -- visible, annoying searches -- are a net loss. I'm far from sure searching people, as distinct from running everybody's luggage and hand luggage through induction detonators, is a net win for air travel.

#35 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Graydon -- nice to hear that we agree. Now, back to my question: what, in specific, can we do? How can we convince the few saner minds in our current administration that there are much more cost-effective ways to deal with the problem?

#36 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2005, 03:44 PM:

In specific?

Make sure the vote counts are accurate.

That means, paper ballots counted in public on the night; no electronic anything, and 'public' has to mean 'anyone who wants to come watch'.

I would say that it's well past time to do whatever it takes to get that.

The problem isn't getting the few saner minds a few good ideas; the actual pros know what they should be doing. (which is a combination of traffic analysis, random searches of a statistically significant amount of cargo, changes in Middle East policy, and a massive, results-or-your-head-on-a-pike 'leave combustion energy technologies behind' development program.)

The problem is that the powers of arbitrary arrest and arbitrary search and seizure are actively desired as a means to quell domestic dissent and are being actively pursued by your federal administration, on the one hand, and the continuation of combustion energy technologies is seen as the continuatin of their core power base by that self-same administration, on the other.

There would be, in a less insensible political climate, opportunities to talk about how responding to attempts to frighten you by acting terrified is the wrong response to terrorist tactics, how a tradition of freedom and open-handedness invalidates the opposition rhetoric, and so on, but even there there's the problem of sixty years of a consistent foreign policy of forced market and forced resource access. Real policy change, real constraints on the behavior of multi-national corporations, and a real repudiation of profit maximization as acceptable conduct would all be required, and they'd have to be materially backed up by money and troops and visible penalties.

This is possible; it isn't likely.

What's likely is a desert from the Rockies to the Mississippi, failure of the monsoons, the tundra line at Paris, category seven hurricanes, and the Greenland ice sheet contributing its seven or eight meters to the global sea level.

When? Current range puts that between 2030 and 2100. I will be very interested to see what the post-confirmation-of-Global-Dimming projections look like.

#37 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 10:31 AM:

The subway searches are a lovely show but serve very little purpose--given the very large number of stations and entrances, it would be very easy for terrorists to avoid searches entirely. I've ridden the trains nearly every day since the searches began; I use a number of different stations in the course of an average week and at none of them have I seen searches taking place or even more than the usual number of cops. The subway system is so porous that this "security," though visible, is pointless (and undoubtedly expensive, and who is paying for it since Homeland Security allots about $1 per subway rider?).

I mean, this weekend, there was a mutiny on one of the new one-man trains, and though the cops were summoned, they never arrived. Subway security remains pretty much a joke.

From today's Newsday:
Little trace remains of the early-morning mutiny on a conductorless L train in Brooklyn. Still, the rebellion is noteworthy as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority moves ahead with plans to eliminate more than 300 conductors on four subway lines in coming years.

The tale of mutinous MetroCard holders was recounted by Jon Schachter, a Manhattan resident and longtime subway activist, who deciphered it from transit radio frequencies. It starts sometime after 2:30 a.m. on July 10, in the tension-filled days after the first terrorist bombings in the London Underground. Schachter was riding the L beneath the East Village, listening, as he always does on the train, to his portable scanner.

"There was a Manhattan-bound train and transit control center says, 'Hold at Lorimer with your doors open,'" Schachter recalled. "They held the train at Lorimer for a while before they said, 'Proceed to Bedford and discharge the train,'" he said.

The lone motorman took his eight-car train to Bedford Avenue, the last stop in Brooklyn before the train enters Manhattan via a tube under the East River. One-person train operation, a money-saving measure known as OPTO, was introduced on the L last month - on nights and weekends, for now.

The controversial move counters the transit agency's supposed focus on security in the wake of terrorist bombings on trains in London and Madrid. The MTA plans to eliminate the positions of 313 train conductors on four subway lines, starting in 2007, according to a published report.

"The train proceeds to Bedford Avenue and, of course, there's only one person on the train," said Schachter, referring to the train operator. At that hour, people leaving clubs and restaurants along Bedford flock to the subway.

"He calls back on his radio and says people won't get off the train," Schachter continued. "This guy has eight cars of people to discharge by himself. They called police and it was almost three in the morning and the police never showed."

A New York City Transit spokesman, Charles Seaton, said there was no record of the incident. But this was not a denial. "It means we can't find a record of it," he said.

A police spokesman yesterday said the incident would likely go unreported by cops. "There was no crime committed," he said.

"Finally, somebody at the control center said, 'I have a solution, call me on the phone,'" Schachter said. "Moments later you hear the announcement, 'OK, we're going to send this train and the next one into Manhattan.' They let the train roll because people would not get off."

"I know that occasionally there are mutinies, but I didn't hear the details of that particular one," said Andrew Albert, a nonvoting member of the MTA board who represents riders.

Last week, London's largest transit union threatened to strike if rail guards were not reinstated on all tube trains. Rail guards, as London's conductors are known, were eliminated decades ago.

A motorman on the L line yesterday said passenger mutinies are not uncommon.

"People get fed up," he said. "If they don't sense that it's a dangerous situation, they're not going to get off your train."

He added, "From our point of view, it's only a matter of time before the New York subway is attacked. When it happens, I hope I have a conductor on my train."

Copyright 2005, Newsday, Inc.

Back to me:

Backpacks can be a pain, but most people I run into take them off and put them between their feet. Briefcases, purses, and shoulder bags cause the same problems; a rude person is a rude person no matter what he or she is wearing or carrying.

#38 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 06:57 PM:

My problem with backpacks is that they're usually worn where, when they hit me, I fall over.

#39 ::: gwendolyn ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2005, 08:57 PM:

In justification of backpacks on subways and buses, I commute to my university by public transit and am often on campus for 10-12 hours; I don't have access to a locker, so I really need a backpack to lug my textbooks around. But they should be kept on one's lap or between one's feet, and carried when the train is crowded.

#40 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2005, 11:54 AM:

I think that removing the backpacks that are causing you inconvenience is a band-aid on a more serious problem:

Other people are using your mass transit and they must be stopped.

#41 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2005, 10:04 PM:

My pack was searched on my way home this evening: I was ducking through Penn Station in order to stop at the drugstore and buy underwear. Had I thought about it, I might have said "Sorry, no," turned around, and gone back up the escalator, but after early-morning physical therapy and an almost full day's work, I was running on the sort of autopilot that says "sure" to any halfway-reasonable-sounding request.

I would note that the searchers were polite and quick, and that this suggests that the NYPD is either not using racial profiling at all--my hope--or at worst is combining it with some amount of randomness and searching whatever the dogs point out. (There was a German shepherd behind the table they were using to search bags.)

[For those who don't know me, I'm white, female, short, plump, and middle-aged.]

#42 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 08:53 AM:

It may be that "searching the bag" was simply an excuse to get it within closer range of the dog's nose without being obvious about the fact that it was the dog doing the heavy lifting. An acquaintance in the Nashville airport's security system notes that the dog handlers there do not, generally, allow people to know that a specific dog is bomb-sniffer as opposed to a drug-sniffer, or just your average police dog. The less attention people pay to the dog, the better.

Also, if the NYPD doesn't have enough bomb-sniffing dogs to cover all the bases, so to speak, they may have to rely on hand searches at some places. In fact, if they really want to distract you from the dog, they probably are doing some dogless searches.

Given dog life-span issues, and the expense of training them, it's likely we'll be seeing small dog breeds used for some of the various sniffing duties. If you should see, in days to come, a uniformed officer with a Yorkshire terrier on a leash, they won't be kidding.

#43 ::: Terry.karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 11:33 AM:

At Dulles the sniffer was a beagle. Knowing better I didn't do what I wanted, which was to say hello.

I like hounds.


#44 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2005, 11:43 AM:

There was recently a really interesting piece on NPR on sniffer dogs.

They described how they train the dogs, which was quite interesting. And if I remember correctly, they (or at least one of the trainers interviewed) said that they got a lot of their dogs from the pound/humane society.

#45 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2005, 06:56 PM:

Hmmm. Would you believe, I've always been a) extremely calm about searches and b) kind of cranky at people who go on hugely about them?

I must now rethink this extensively.

Somewhat handicapped by my Canadianness, I suspect. I haven't had issues with most of the increased security measures here, which have been tending more to the 'don't walk away from that bag and we won't have to care what it contains' sort, and I expect all visits to the US to involve at least one thing I think is insane, so I just sort of cope.

I rather favoured the dogs at Pearson, (was I distracted by the promise of beagles? Am I that weak?) but I've always had good experiences there. I've been strip searched at Pearson. I've also been searched at Vancouver with my mother having hysterics and trying to grab the guard's arm, and his courtesy never wavered. He even helped me make the damned plane.

I'm biased. I just don't know how biased.

And there is this about dogs: they are very one-track. They don't care what else you have with you, if it isn't what they are trained to react to.

What we NEED, I think, and will not get, is security that is only there to look for explosives and weapons. That does not give a good goddamn what else you may or may not be carrying, or up to. Possibly that is not EMPOWERED to take action on anything else.

Small, non-scary dogs seem closer to this than any other realistic possibility. As long as we can trust the handlers. And that's the rub, isn't it?

#46 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2005, 07:46 PM:

fidelio: If you should see, in days to come, a uniformed officer with a Yorkshire terrier on a leash, they won't be kidding.

Hmmm, I'd probably expect the uniformed officer to overcompensate and have a tendency to unnecessarily club people over the head to reinforce his (or her) machismo if paired with a toy dog of any sort. (Except maybe a pug, which are probably the most manly of the mini-canines.)

#47 ::: Eric Botticelli ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2005, 12:09 AM:

According to a 12/02/05 NYT article

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said through a spokesman, "Common sense prevailed." in response to a ruling by Judge Berman approving the random bag searches by the NYPD. Mayor Bloomberg also supported the ruling.

Kelly, Bloomberg, and Berman all need a lesson in common sense. If a person with a bomb is stupid enough to continue walking past the police checkpoint *and* unlucky enough to be searched, he will simply refuse, exit the station, walk 6 blocks and enter the next station, where there is no police checkpoint.

This policy does nothing to increase security and at the same time cuts deeply into the skin of the New Yorker's privacy, not to mention our rights under the fourth amendment.

-Eric Botticelli

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