On my way down to the train at Davis Station around 8:30am this morning, I was about to pass through the gate when a transit officer asked me to submit to a bag inspection. There was a group of about 4 or 5 officers wearing yellow and black jackets standing next to a small folding table with a machine on top.
I was annoyed because my train had just come up to the platform, so I was afraid I’d miss it. So, I obediently went over to the table, and asked if I had the right to refuse the inspection. Yes, I could refuse, they told me, but then I’d have to leave the station. One officer at the table asked rhetorically why anyone would want to refuse. I complied because I had nothing to hide and I wanted to get it over with so I could catch my train.
The inspection consisted of rubbing a small piece of fabric or cotton around the exterior of my backpack. Then, the fabric was put into the machine. The officer performing this task explained that he was testing for explosives. No personally identifying information was requested from me. The test was negative, so I could get on my way. It’s notable that this test used a computer instead of a bomb sniffing dog, I wonder which is more effective and what the cost savings are.
The whole inspection took about 30 seconds and I was actually able to catch my train to Porter Station where no inspections were taking place. When I returned to Davis Station about an hour later, around 9:30am, the officers were gone.
The inspection left me feeling annoyed, inconvenienced, and surprised. I also felt vulnerable because I didn’t know my rights. I think the MBTA should do a better job of publicizing its inspection program so people can mentally prepare for it. The MBTA Police website contains a link to information on its bag inspection program near the bottom, but this information dates back to 2006 and made no mention of activities going on this month.
I wonder about the rates of false positives and false negatives of the explosives test. How effective is it at deterring or catching people who carry bombs? And why only inspect the exterior of the bag when there could be dangerous items inside?
Have you or someone you know been inspected? What was the experience like?
Note: I cross-posted this on the Davis Square Live Journal here.