Amanda Ripley

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TSA on the 4/5/6?

30th Apr 2009 posted in Resilience

TSA workers are going to be searching bags on the subway in New York City, according to this unsettling report by MyFoxNY.com. Here’s the deal: NYPD is short on cops, so the TSA guys would free up some officers to go above ground, the story says.

Let’s think about this. What was the point of having cops search bags on the subway to begin with? Oh yeah, deterrence. Because after all, there’s no chance there will ever be enough cops (or TSA workers or squeegee guys) to actually find a ticking needle in a haystack.

So the upside was deterrence. And the downside? Well, that was freedom, of course—freedom from being stopped and having your personal property groped by lawmen on your way to work. I actually thought that was a reasonable trade, given the high risk of a subway bombing.

But that’s because I had faith that the guys doing the groping were trained police who understood the complicated ecosystem that is New York City. NYPD understands terrorism better than most law enforcement types, and that includes much of the FBI.

Now, I’m not saying the best detectives were down there searching bags on the F train (at least I hope they weren’t). But whoever was searching bags belonged to an organization that, while flawed in important ways, I basically sort of almost trust.

Not so with TSA. Nothing against TSA employees—who are generally hard-working, polite and underpaid. But they are not nearly as well trained as police officers. At airports, they search everyone, more or less. They aren’t expected to use their discretion to find the narrow line between reasonable searching and profiling.

And what about the upside? Well, since TSA employees don’t carry weapons, can’t arrest anyone and aren’t particularly well-respected, they won’t act as much of a deterrent, either.

So what are we left with? Carry the 2 and add the 3… Let’s see: Less deterrence, less freedom. Lose-Lose.

(Thanks to a loyal reader for the heads up on this.)