July 21, 2005
NY's response to London bombings: everyone's a suspect
Mayor Bloomberg announced this morning that police are going to start doing random searches of the bags and backpacks of people entering subway stations, presumably in response to the second and unsuccessful series of bombings in London. Passengers who don't want to be searched can apparently exercise their constitutional right not to use public transportation; Police Commissioner Kelly says would-be riders can "turn around and leave," and also notes that his officers will not engage in any kind of racial profiling.
I don't think Bloomberg is an idiot, and this announcement is probably an attempt to do something proactive in the face of repeated attacks on London. Better to make a half-assed gesture that will make New Yorkers feel like progress is being made in their security.
But, as The Economist would say, this is wrong. The notion that one can secure a subway system at all, short of installing scanners and x-ray machines like we use in airports at every subway entrance, is a total illusion. New Yorkers are well aware that we don't live in a safe world, and everybody has more or less come to believe that we were never as safe as we might have thought.
Putting more police officers on the subway so that they can stop potential bombings isn't the best use of the officers' time. Cops are good at patrolling neighborhoods and stopping muggings and assaults. They are probably less good at stopping suicide bombers from achieving the one mission that matters more to them than anything.
Bloomberg concedes that his plan for random searches is "a little bit" intrusive. Actually, it's a violation of freedom and privacy and shows delusional thinking about the nature of security. Wrong wrong wrong.
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