Subway and commuter rail riders will be discouraged from bringing briefcases or backpacks on board during the week of the Democratic National Convention, and any passenger who does have a bag or parcel may be subject to having it searched, MBTA officials said yesterday.
T police said they are seeking additional officers from other law enforcement agencies to conduct spot baggage searches at all 200 subway and commuter rail stations in Greater Boston, though they stressed that details of the plan have yet to be worked out
"We're asking people not to bring bags or parcels on with them that week," said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo. "If they do, they should not be surprised if they are stopped."
The policy could complicate the commute for residents that week, especially with the city and the T encouraging people to ride the trains, rather than drive into Boston.
"It involves everyone," Pesaturo said. "It's a week of extraordinary security measures."
When asked about the logistics of checking large numbers of passengers carrying bags during the convention and whether that might produce delays or long lines, Pesaturo said he could not discuss details. But he promised a comprehensive public-education campaign explaining all procedures within the next few days.
The policy, for the convention week of July 26, is in addition to a random-check policy that the T will begin next month.
Under that program, which was prompted by the bombing of trains in Madrid, four teams of police offficers will fan out to different stations every day and randomly stop people carrying bags or parcels.
The agency is already facing criticism for that approach, and yesterday, Joseph Carter, police chief for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, met with civil liberties advocates who are concerned that the searches will be intrusive and might be based on profiling.
Carter said the officers conducting the search will primarily use an explosives detection device to scan the bags. If those devices are not available, the teams will use dogs trained to detect bombs, and, as a last resort, manual inspection, where riders will have to allow their backpacks and handbags to be opened.
The inspections "will be conducted on a systematic, random sampling basis, to eliminate the element of discretion," Carter said. It "will be limited in scope and duration and conducted in the least intrusive manner possible."
Passengers have the option to refuse an inspection, but they won't be allowed to ride the subway or commuter rail. If they insist on riding the T, they will first be warned and then arrested for trespassing if they proceed, Carter said.
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who met with Carter along with representatives from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the Anti-Defamation League, said the groups will monitor the searches and make sure they are truly random. The civil liberties group is concerned that T police will target people who they believe look like terrorists or look suspicious.
The baggage search policy, the first in the nation, has also been criticized by members of the T's Rider Oversight Committee, whose members fear the searches will be invasive. The committee, which is made up of riders and transit and environmental advocates, was established after January's fare increase to monitor service on the T.
Several members of the committee said they were concerned that riders would be subject to embarassment if subjected to manual inspections.
They also said that many immigrants, who use the transit system and who may not understand what the search is about, might flee when faced with a search by a police officer.
"These folks don't have any other means to get around," said committee member Davida Andelman.
"What if someone opens their bag, and there's a joint in there?" said another committee member, Jeremy Marin, referring to a marijuana cigarette. He said he wanted to know if that person would be arrested for drug possession or whether someone who flees a search would be pursued.
"We're not looking for joints," said Michael Mulhern, the T's general manager. "We're looking to remove threats and for this to be a deterrent. Police officers will exercise their own judgment."
The panel first proposed a resolution calling on the T to hold a public hearing before implementing the policy and then changed the request to a public meeting explaining the procedures and allowing public comment.
There are "no plans to hold a public hearing," Pesaturo said. "It's been properly vetted."
Anthony Flint can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.