New York Civil Rights Group to Sue over Subway Bag Searches

NEW YORK -- Random searches of bags and packages carried by subway riders are unconstitutional and ineffective at stopping terrorists from attacking the heart of the city's public transit system, a civil rights lawyer charged Wednesday.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the organization will file a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to challenge the city's new policy, enforced after deadly bombings in London last month.

"This program is unprecedented in terms of the threat it poses to core constitutional rights," he said.

Five plaintiffs to be introduced at a news conference Thursday would include a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center whose bag was inspected in one of the random searches announced July 21 by police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYCLU said.

Since the searches began, thousands of people seeking to ride at the city's 468 subway stations have had their belongings searched, the NYCLU maintains.

"We do not object to reasonable searches, but we cannot and will not stand by while the police department seeks to embark upon an unprecedented program that subjects millions of people to suspicionless searches and serves virtually no public safety purpose," Dunn said.

He said the search program leaves most subway entrances unmonitored and results in only innocent people being searched, especially since people can walk away and enter the subway system where there are no police.

"It certainly appears that the subway system is wide open for people that want to bring bombs into it," he added.

The ineffective method used by police "simply cannot justify eliminating the core constitutional protection that people cannot be searched by the police without suspicion of wrongdoing," he said.

The city law office was awaiting the NYCLU's filing of the legal claim and would evaluate it thoroughly, spokeswoman Kate O'Brien Ahlers said.