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LIRR will search riders

(The following story by Joshua Robin, Daryl Khan and Joie Tyrrell appeared on the Newsday website on July 22.)

NEW YORK -- Passengers stepping onto Long Island Rail Road platforms today will be subject to random bag searches before they board trains, in an unprecedented measure adopted after terrorists bombed London's transit system for the second time in two weeks.

MTA spokesman Tom Kelly said police would randomly choose stations in the LIRR service area. Passengers riding subways, buses and ferries also will be subject to search.

Police said the searches would be brief. Those who refuse will be denied access to the transit system, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

The measure makes New York's the first mass transit network where bags are checked without the backdrop of a major political event. In Boston last summer, police searched bags as the city hosted the Democratic National Convention. A spokesman for the Washington transit system said that city would follow New York's program with an eye toward adopting it.

"We just live in a world where, sadly, these kinds of security measures are necessary," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a news conference on Staten Island less than five hours after the first of four minor bombings rocked the British capital. "Are they intrusive? Yes, a little bit. But we are trying to find that right balance."

The New York Civil Liberties Union immediately blasted the move and said it is contemplating a suit to halt it.

"The police can and should be aggressively investigating anyone they suspect of trying to bring explosives into the subway," said associate legal director Christopher Dunn. "How.ever, police searches of people without any suspicion of wrongdoing are contrary to the most basic of constitutional principles."

Kelly said officers are not to check passengers based on race.

At Penn Station during rush hour yesterday, announcements echoed over the public address system, saying bags and backpacks would be subject to random checks starting July 22. Most commuters interviewed said they wouldn't mind.

"If they are going to do a random search, bring it on," said Gerard Young, who commutes from Huntington.

Charlene Pulsonetti, who travels to Speonk after taking classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, agreed.

"I honestly don't mind, as long as it's for the safety of everyone," Pulsonetti said. Yesterday she stood in Penn Station toting a large black bag laden with art supplies. "I have nothing to hide, and if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn't be worried."

But some said the random searches ring hollow.

"I think it is more of a feel-good type of thing, to make people feel more secure," said Gerry Bringmann, vice chairman of the LIRR Commuter's Council. "If they use the dogs, they would be much more efficient."

At Jamaica Station, Richard Bailey, 48, of Brooklyn voiced concern.

"You have police on the trains and police in the station," Bailey said. "Why should you invade our privacy?"

The latest London attacks came as the city's transit system was already at its highest state of readiness because of the July 7 bombings, MTA officials said, with police and bomb-sniffing dogs on patrol.

The explosions coincided with the release of $42 million in mass transit security for the tristate area from the Department of Homeland Security. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut officials must now divvy up the money.

Mass transit advocates say the federal government has not done enough. Before yesterday, the government had parceled out just $250 million for mass transit security since Sept. 11, compared with more than $18 billion for aviation.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has also come under attack for saying airplanes should be prioritized over subways because more people could be killed in a terrorist attack using an airplane.

The Senate recently rejected a plan to fund mass transit security with $1.16 billion next year and instead allotted only $100 million -- a fraction of the $32 billion bill. A congressional committee is expected to revisit increasing the funding later this year.

(Staff writer Ruth Tisdale contributed to this story.)

Friday, July 22, 2005

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