By Kamala Lane
The Associated Press
The Washington area's subway and bus system announced Monday that it will begin randomly searching passengers' bags as part of an initiative to deter terrorist attacks.
It is the first time the Metro transit system has conducted such a program, officials said. Amtrak and transit systems in New York, Boston and New Jersey conduct similar searches.
Metro is starting the searches partly because of the upcoming events surrounding the presidential inauguration. Metro General Manager John Catoe said the move is "not a response to any new or specific threat."
The searches by Metro transit police and bomb-sniffing dogs will be conducted at bus stops and train stations. Passengers' carry-on items will be searched before they enter the fare gates. Transit police will take riders aside and only search areas of bags and backpacks that are large enough to conceal explosives and other hazardous materials, officials said.
Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn says the random selection process will follow a number system and will avoid racial profiling. Officers also will be allowed to target anyone suspected of activity by another passenger.
Each inspection is expected to last no longer than 15 seconds. Taborn said the searches will only be conducted during a heightened security threat .
Signs notifying riders of the inspections were to be posted Monday at all station entrances. People who wish not to be searched can leave the station before reaching the inspection site. Taborn said customers who refuse to cooperate will not be allowed to enter the Metro system.
Similar searches on New York's subways were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2005, but an appeals court determined they were constitutional.
Metro has not said how soon the searches will begin. The transit agency will use its own money for the program, but did not say how much has been allocated.
Metro Police Chief Michael Taborn said the random selection process will follow a number system and will avoid racial profiling. Officers also will be allowed to target anyone suspected of activity by another passenger.