WASHINGTON – In the year and a half that Metro’s random bag inspection process has been in place, the program has netted exactly zero arrests.
WTOP submitted a Public Access to Records Policy request with Metro, asking for a list of the arrests made since the program started in December 2010, but there were no arrests.
Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn says this is no reason to move away from the program.
“The more you do something to ensure security, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will catch somebody. But the unpredictability of it puts us in a better posture as far as protecting in an open environment,” says Taborn.
Metro’s random bag search program is paid for by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Taborn could not say specifically how much the program cost.
Metro conducts its bag inspections in conjunction with officials from the Transportation Security Administration.
A federal security official who asked to be kept anonymous described the program this way:
“The bag checks are designed to look for explosives and are just one layer of multiple security layers that a transit agency has to deter someone who wants to cause harm to the system. The random nature of it is what serves as a deterrent.”
There are some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, who expressed opposition to the program when it was put in place, calling it “security theater.”
Taborn says there has been little push-back from riders.
“We’ve screened thousands of people — and maybe over 10 have had a problem with what it is we are doing,” says Taborn.
Metro’s bag search program was modeled after similar programs in Boston and New York City.
Chief Paul MacMillian with the MBTA Transit Police Department in Boston tells WTOP that since security inspections started full-time in 2007, there haven’t been any arrests there either.
Sgt. Brendan Ryan with the New York Police Department tells WTOP that bag checks started in New York City in 2004, but the department doesn’t delineate the fashion in which arrests are made on the system. In other words, there’s no sole record of arrests coming from New York City’s random bag search program.
Taborn says he believes the public “welcomes” the inspections as another layer of protection.