Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro bag screenings: Of course there's no opting out

January 17, 2011 - 11:41 AM
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Via DCist, we saw this morning that the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition has posted video of Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn fielding questions on the new Metro bag screenings from members of the Riders' Advisory Council. From the very beginning Metro officials have tried to emphasize that anyone plucked for a screening has the option to decline and simply leave the station. But when board member Diana Zinkl asked Taborn what would happen when someone opted out like this, here's what he said:

"Well I can tell you without any uncertainty that that person would be observed. And what that means to you is different than what it means to me, but that person would be observed."

When Zinkl asked him to clarify the meaning of "observed," Taborn said,
"Be observed. Be, be observed. Be watched." He later told board vice chair David Alpert that “[a]t some point in time, as we work with the FBI and as we work with the Department of Homeland Security, we establish why” a person declined the check.

In other words: If you don't fork over your bag, you're going to get a whole lot of attention from law enforcement. This is no big surprise. On the day these screenings were announced we asked Taborn if investigators would be following up with anyone who opted out. He told us "there's always a possibility," which we took to mean "most certainly." 

Most of us would expect police to do at least a little digging on someone who didn't want their bag screened. It would defeat the entire purpose of the screenings not to. But as Thomas Nephew points out on the coalition's blog, it's annoying that Metro has continued to bill these screenings as optional. In reality, they're not. The agency should tell riders the plain truth: You're welcome to opt out, but you should expect to be investigated if you do.

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