Subway searches now affecting commuters in our area

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    Warwick — For the last 15 years, Mike Angle has boarded a New Jersey Transit bus each weekday morning in Warwick to make his way to work in New York City. After his bus arrives at Port Authority, he takes the "A" train to his office, which is between Wall Street and the South Street Seaport. He also depends on the subway to get to and from meetings within the city, since "it's usually faster than a cab." Since July 22, when the New York City Police Department instituted random checks of passengers' bags on the New York subway system, Angle has changed his schedule to avoid the more congested times of day. He takes an earlier bus in the morning to avoid the subways during rush hour and tries to stay away from the subways at lunchtime. The NYPD baggage checks are in response to the July 7 suicide bombings in London that killed 52 passengers on three subway trains and one bus. Two weeks later, four bombs were found at other points along the rail lines but were not detonated. Angle has not has his bag searched nor has he seen anyone else have theirs searched in the days after the policy was instituted. But he has noticed increased security at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and a crackdown on unattended bags. "The etiquette of waiting on line there is that you put your bag on the floor in the line and then go outside for a smoke," he said. "Now the police come around and track down whose bag it is." Angle said he would comply with the bag search, saying it is less of a hassle than taking his shoes off at the airport. Meanwhile, another commuter from Warwick said he also has noticed the increased police presence, especially at the Hoboken terminal, which is a main hub on the PATH line. Jim, who asked that his last name not be used, said he drives to the train in Suffern each day, then takes the PATH train from Hoboken to the city. "Having the police presence gives some people peace of mind, but it is psychological," he said. New York's is the largest subway system in the country, with 4.5 million riders each day and 468 stations. With tensions running high, police felt that instituting this random search policy could help prevent or thwart a similar incident here. New Jersey Transit trains and buses were also added to the list, as were ferries from New Jersey. Although he doesn't believe random checks should be done, Jim said he would submit to them. "I would have to let them search me because I have no other way to get there," he said. "So I will let them, but where does it end?" Instead of feeling secure, Jim said he believes the searches go against the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against "unreasonable searches or seizures." As a general rule, the government is not allowed to search someone or their belongings unless there is reason to believe that person is a criminal. Legal precedent has allowed random searches if they fulfill specific needs like that of public safety. One difference here from airport screenings is that in an airport everyone is screened. There is no discretion on the part of the officers doing the screening. With random searches, many civil libertarians fear that people will be searched because of their religion or nationality. To avoid violating anyone's civil rights, lawyers have drawn up guidelines for police. Police have been instructed to search people in numerical order as they approach the turnstiles, for example every fifth or tenth person. Angle said he feels much more secure on the NJ Transit bus because the same people ride the bus each day. On the subway, though, he is aware of people and what they are carrying. He said he'd be off the train at the next stop if someone looked suspicious. He isn't sure these searches will prevent an incident like the one in London. "I understand it is a deterrence," Angle said. "I don't think it makes me feel any more secure, as the New York system is just too big and open to prevent anyone who wants to give up their life to blow up a subway."