New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, said the decision to make random checks of passengers’ bags in the mass transit system was nearly a year and a half in the making, reports the New York Times. Kelly started to focus more closely on transit vulnerabilities in February 2004, after a deadly explosion in the Moscow underground. “The reality is, you need an event such as London for people to realize this is a procedure put in place for their safety,” Kelly said. “Searches are intrusive. The issue is what the public will accept. You still need an event to get public support.”
Kelly said internal police discussions had balanced many issues including legal questions, the practicality of a large and sustained police operation in the subway, and a reading of how much intrusiveness New Yorkers would accept. Kelly noted that when he started as U.S. Customs commissioner, that agency faced 90 lawsuits related to racial profiling. “I changed the system in a variety of ways,” he said. “We reduced the number of searches by 75 percent and increased the number of drug finds by 25 percent.” Kelly and other officials have sought to compare the bag searches to police checkpoints on roads to deter drunken drivers. Civil liberties advocates point to a federal judge’s ruling last year that barred the Police Department from randomly searching the bags of protesters at the Republican National Convention.