Saturday, July 23, 2005

Random Searches

NJ Transit and Port Authority NY/NJ cops will begin random searches of bags, etc., at train stations and bus depots starting Monday mornign. Acing Gov. Codey ordered the policy, but it appears it was pushed by the fact that NYC police began their own random searches Thursday. "We couldn't look like we were weak and doing nothing," said some unnamed official.

Apparently racial profiling will not be tolerated. We learned our lesson with that one in Our Fair State. But no one will say how people would be selected to be searched.

My first reaction to this is to remind everyone what the Fourth Ammendment says. I guess the question here is, is this unreasonable? As yet another unnamed person in the Times article points out, they search everyone at the airport, and that's not considered unreasonable.

The real issue with this is that it's useless. As pointed out by Random Official, they don't want to look weak. But this won't actually make us any stronger. How many people can they search in a day? There are 800,000 trips on NJ transit on an average weekday, not to mention PATH. Will randomly pulling a few hundred, or even a few thousand, aside daily really increase our safety?

Now, I have the outsider perspective here- neither I nor my husband uses NJTransit on a daily basis. (Only for fun trips, like to see this.) The news is new today so I have yet to see it come up on the NJ blogs yet. It will be interesting to see what the throngs have to say, especially if the commutes are delayed on Monday.


Jim - PRS said...

I believe the searches are very reasonable, given that they are not terribly invasive and that they have as their goal to prevent lunatic murderers from blowing people to bits.

I don't know that they will actually catch one of these animals, but I believe the goal is deterrence, on the theory that a bomber will think twice about trying to get explosives on the train if there is a chance that he or she will be caught.

I'm all for it. I wish there was a way they could search everyone. I'll volunteer to be the first searchee.

Andrew said...

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

That's the fourth amendment. Random searches clearly infringe. There is no probable cause, no oath or affirmation, no warrant describing the place to be searched. It is entirely discretionary.

Couple that with the fact that is highly unlikely to be effective, I see no justification whatsoever.

Tata said...

Jim - anyone anxious to destroy America must be laughing about that we would hand over our Fourth Amendment rights without a fuss. This isn't deterrence, but it is very bad strategy and evidence that we have truly lost our way.

It's way past the time we should have calmed down and started to think clearly about what we're doing and what's happening to us. We are not safer and free if we trade away those freedoms for *illusions of safety.*

Your desire to have everyone searched is rooted in fear. That's no way to live. I hope you find another way.

Jim - PRS said...

It really isn't necessary to quote the Fourth Amendment to me, as I am quite familiar with it as well as the caselaw it has spawned. There are numerous examples of warrantless searches that have long been upheld as being constitutional, the type of searches being conducted here being just one of them.

I prefer the searches over the alternatives you have suggested, which are none.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew said...

I'm reposting this - hopefully I've gottent all the typos....

Jim, I don't doubt that you are familiar with the fourth amendment, although I disagree with you on how it applies to this case. In any event, I quoted it because the paragraph about probable cause, warrants, etc. was be more concise in that context.

I would be interested in seeing some examples of case law that backs up this type of search. Can you point me at some of them?

WRT to alternatives, you are correct, I have not posted any - for this particular problem. In a place that is that public with so many crowds, I think it is highly unlikely we can devise a system (even an unconstitutional one) that can stop a bomber 500 feet from their intended target. I think any system that purports to do so provides a false sense of security and wastes resources that could be better spent elsewhere. And, as I said, I believe these searches infringe on the fourth amendment.

I think we need to work at stopping a terrorist before they're in the process of attacking. I believe in investigative tools like wiretaps (warranted), surveillance, undercover work, etc. I also support efforts to improve sharing of intelligence. We need to better address the root causes in our foreign policy (I don't mean appeasement).

It is my opinion that these methods stand to be much more effective than the dragnet approach.

Andrew said...

Noun-verb tense agreement in the third paragraph. Oh well....

Anonymous said...

If the searches are truly random, then thousands of police hours are going to be wasted searching grandmothers. These are resources that could be used elsewhere. If the searches are targeted at a specific profile (race, ethnic, age) they are clearly unconstitutional. So either way, they don’t work.

This group have an online guide for citizen to assert their 4th amendment rights when dealing with a police encounter,

Sharon GR said...

As of now, the searches are random- every 15th or 20th passenger. And the searches can be refused, with the searchee denied admission to the station. Even the evil and hate-filled among us could take six or eight seconds to count their place in line or leave to go to another station. These searches are PR only; they won't make us any safer.

The Trenton Times has an editorial on this today here. They're all for it, but quickly point out how completely ineffective these searches are. They mention as "accessories" bomb-sniffing dogs, advanced electronic sensors, and closed-circuit videocameras, but I think all three of these as primary measures would be a heluva lot more effective than sporadic random searches.

DBK said...

I stand with the Fourth Amendment absolutists. The effectiveness of the searches are irrelevant. If that does interest you, please examine the effectiveness of the terrorist attacks. They aren't effective in terms of actually harming the nation as a whole and the numbers they get to, in truth, are very small. They are effective, however, in getting Americans to sacrifice their laws and their freedoms.

I don't intend to hand my government over to al Qaeda and I have no interest in learning to live like a frightened person in a police state just so I can pretend to be safe.

Want to strike a blow against terrorism? A real blow? Get a car that gets higher mileage and write your representative in Washington demanding higher CAFE standards. Don't give up pieces of the Bill of Rights, one at a time. That won't stop an enemy. It only gives the enemy more power.