New Yorkers submit to bag searches

Most mass-transit riders welcome extra security

By Jim Fitzgerald
Associated Press

NEW YORK It's generally not a good idea to pick a New Yorker at random, go through his things and slow his rush to the subway. Nobody needs another irritation on a hot, crowded, smelly commute.

But city straphangers submitted calmly Friday as police inspected their bags and briefcases after the latest attacks on London's Underground. Some were skeptical, some were critical, but most said they were glad for the extra security.

"It doesn't bother me," said Davon Campbell, 24, a security worker who waited about four minutes while an officer rifled through his rolling suitcase and two shoulder bags at a station in the Bronx. "I can understand why they're doing it. It's important."

Ron Freeman, 25, a stockbroker whose backpack was searched, said, "They should have done this a long time ago, ever since 9/11."

And Amy Wilson, 28, said the officers' work "makes me feel safer. I like knowing they're here."

At Woodlawn, Sgt. Kevin O'Connor used a bullhorn to alert riders. "If you do not agree to this inspection, you must exit the transit system immediately," he added. He said he hadn't seen anyone turn around and his officers hadn't met with any resistance.

Police had promised there would be no racial profiling, and when a woman in what looked like Muslim dress was selected by officer Richard Dixon, he said he was simply picking "every fifth person with a bag."

The woman wouldn't comment.

Richard Collins, 48, a black man with a beard and a white knitted skullcap, said he didn't think he was tapped because he looked Muslim, but he was "a little perturbed."

"Not because of the religion thing," he said. "They're taking two minutes out of my time."

The NYPD said there had been no arrests and no seizures of weapons, drugs or other contraband by late afternoon. Some people left rather than submit to searches, however.

Random searches were also being conducted on buses, ferries and trains to the suburbs. Outside a Long Island Rail Road station Thursday night, police charged a man after discovering a taser, a police-style baton and a pair of chukka sticks in his car, but said he had no terrorist links and had made no threats.

The man was arraigned Friday on two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

On the city subways, which are used by 4.5 million people on the average workday, the inspections started on a small scale Thursday afternoon and were expanded Friday.

Baggage and packages carried by bus and rail passengers in New Jersey will be subject to random searches starting Monday, authorities said. Travelers using facilities of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also will be searched starting Monday.

The New York Civil Liberties Union opposed the searches, saying they violated the Fourth Amendment.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he hoped the NYCLU would recognize that the city had struck the right balance between security and protecting constitutional rights. He said the bag-checking program is part of a policy to "constantly change tactics" and "may, or may not, be there tomorrow."
The mayor declined to say how much the program cost.