Monday, July 25, 2005

Random Searches

We're seeing quite a little bit of argument on the utility of random searches to try to prevent, or at least minimize, the threat of suicide bombers on our mass transit.
Assuming that they are really random I question the utility. Rightly or wrongly, though, I would submit that these searches won't be truly random.

What we will actually see, I hope, will be the use of what was once called "the policeman's eye". By the time a law enforcement officer (LEO) has been on the bricks for a year or so (s)he develops a near-instinctive ability to spot someone 'wrong'. A good case in point is the capture of the Millennium Bomber by that lady customs agent in 1999. The guy was acting wrong. What she thought she had was a drug runner. Instead she broke up a serious attempt at a terrorist act. The guy was 'wrong', she knew that, she just didn't know why. Fortunately she was in a position where she had all the 'probable cause' she needed to question and search him based on that feeling. Most LEOs don't have that luxury, the rules on exactly what constitutes probable cause to stop and search, or even question, are pretty strict.

An LEO gets intimately familiar with the rhythms of the beat, who belongs, who doesn't. The eye is attracted to subtle cues of behavior.

These random searches will catch more than bombs. I can see bluesuits disgustedly flushing small amounts of dope down transit station toilets because an arrest won't be worth the paperwork. I'm curious as to how the public will react when the dragnet to catch terrorists catches the guy with a bench warrant for failure to appear on a traffic ticket.

It would be a simple matter if all explosives were of the type that the trained dogs can find. It would be expensive but within a year or so we could have bomb dogs everywhere. Unfortunately it ain't like that. So, we're going to have to rely on something else. How this redounds to civil liberties is a question far above my pay grade. It's not a question that the LEO's ability to spot someone 'wrong' is generic, mostly. The visual cues are not usually specific as to exactly what that particular person is doing.

I'm curious as to how the courts will view these searches. I'm also curious as to any better ideas.

We aren't going to lock up or deport every person in the suspect groups, nor are we going to require everybody to go round naked with transparant purses and backpacks. So, what are the options? How about making use of our LEO's eyes and instincts and then let the courts decide what to do with the non-splodeydopes they catch?

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