New York Begins Searching Bags on Subway

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New York City officials have begun random searches of bags and packages on the city's subway system. The move is a response to the recent attacks on London's mass transportation system.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

The London attacks have heightened fears of an attack on mass transit here in the United States. The New York Police Department today began inspections of subway riders in the city. Our New York correspondent, Mike Pesca, joins us.

Mike, is this a reaction to what happened in London yesterday? This policy was announced immediately after these explosions.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

Well, they said they've been considering something like this for three years, but clearly it was. And to describe what's going on here, what is not happening--it is not like screening for an airplane. They're not screening everyone and they're not looking at all bags. They're not looking through pocketbooks. It has to be bigger than a pocketbook, something knapsack-sized. They're also not screening at every station. They're not screening to every entrance to every station. So it's sort of spot screenings.

CHADWICK: And you walked around yesterday looking at all this. No one stopped you. You're carrying a reporter's bag and kit there.

PESCA: And I also--to make sure that I had a big enough bag to be stopped, I got a knapsack that clearly was within the size limits of something that would be stopped. But you have to realize, there are 468 stations. There are thousands of entry points. So even if there are 35,000 NYPD officers, which is, you know, the biggest number of any police force in the United States, it's very impractical, if not impossible, to man every entry point. So it's a little bit of a different philosophy where they want to institute enough of a disincentive so if someone was thinking of doing something bad in the subway, just having a few of those spot checks might be enough to dissuade them and make the overall system safer.

CHADWICK: It's more like a police roadblock for sobriety checks than airport security.

PESCA: Yeah, that would be the similarity in philosophy. But here's the big difference. If someone in New York doesn't want to subject themselves to the check, they can just turn around and walk away. And they could probably walk a few blocks to the next subway station which is not being checked actually.

CHADWICK: How are New Yorkers reacting to this, Mike?

PESCA: OK. Officially, the ACLU and, specifically, the New York Civil Liberties Union, objected. But their objection, they said, will not amount right now to a court challenge. And that's significant. Court challenges have failed. They failed in Boston when a civil liberties group tried to challenge these kind of checks. But for the most part, the man-on-the-street reaction is, you know, `This is the world we live in,' and they're resigned to it.

CHADWICK: NPR's Mike Pesca in New York. Thank you, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome, Alex.

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