Tony Vera Echevarria I do not Break the law I work by the law by tonyvera1902   1 month ago


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BY SFGATE Alan Gathright, Kathleen Sullivan, Chronicle Staff Writers
Airports start car searches / U.S. orders random checks for bombs Police at airports in the Bay Area and around the country have quietly started to conduct random searches of vehicles under a new federal security mandate to thwart car bombs.

Some U.S. airports, concerned that the searches are illegal, are refusing to carry out the directive. The Transportation Security Administration has ordered police at U.S. airports to randomly select vehicles arriving on entrance roads for "voluntary" searches. Motorists who refuse the search are barred from proceeding to the terminal.

The mandate was issued when the federal government raised the national terrorism alert to "code orange" Feb. 8.

"We're not looking for anything other than explosives that can cause mass casualties and destruction," said Alameda County Sheriff's Capt. Rocky Medeiros, whose agency provides exterior security at Oakland International Airport. "We're not looking in glove boxes or popping off hubcaps or looking into purses."

The surprise searches began last Thursday at Oakland and Wednesday at San Francisco International Airport, and they are scheduled to begin today at Mineta/San Jose International. The mandate -- which will end when the code orange alert is lowered -- has already triggered opposition from civil liberties groups as well as some airports.

"They said to give us any details at all, even the broadest parameters of this program, would jeopardize security," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberty Union's Technology and Liberty Program, "as if Osama bin Laden was sitting in a cave somewhere in Pakistan worrying about whether or not (U.S. officials) are advising the airport authorities to adhere to the constitution."

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez said the searches, which are being conducted just a few hours each day, are "intended to prevent or deter bombing by vehicles at an airport."

"If people don't want to be inspected, they don't have to be," he said. "But they're not going be allowed into the airport."


Medeiros said that by Sunday evening more than 2,100 vehicles had been searched at the Oakland airport's entrance road or at the terminals' curbside. Officials said inspectors are checking only the back seat and trunk and using mirrors to look beneath the vehicle. A routine stop should take no more than 90 seconds.

He said the search is random. Officers select the first three to five cars stopped at a red light along an entrance road and ask the drivers to pull over.
"It's no different than pulling a handle on a slot machine in Las Vegas -- strictly random," he said. "We don't do any profiling or biased selection. If somebody does not want to participate, we give them an opportunity to exit the airport and we'll escort them off the airport grounds," he added.

License plates are recorded to prevent those who decline inspection from re- entering.

While Bay Area airports are accepting the directive -- SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said airport officials obtained the approval of the city attorney for the searches -- it has caused consternation elsewhere.


In Washington, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials have rejected the inspections, saying the state constitution prohibits police searches that aren't based on suspicious behavior.

"On a public roadway in the state of Washington, a police officer needs something 'articulably suspicious' to search a car," said Sea-Tac spokesman Bob Parker. "We're trying to find a way to all get to the same place, which is as safe an airport as we can make it. If (federal officials) mandate this and show us a way that it's legal under our state constitution, then we're good to go."

Similar constitutional concerns have been raised at airports in Oregon.

The ACLU's Steinhardt came away frustrated from a telephone conference Wednesday with Transportation Security Administration attorneys, who he said refused to be specific about search procedures.

"These searches continue to be shrouded in mystery," Steinhardt said. "The TSA has given virtually no guidance to the airport authorities about how to conduct them and certainly has given them no additional resources to conduct them with.

"The potential for abuse here is profound, and nothing has been done to prevent that abuse -- whether it's searches based on race or ethnicity or whether it's overly zealous searches."

Federal officials, citing court rulings that allow police to conduct drunken-driver checkpoints to protect the greater public safety, believe the searches are legally justified.

"We believe that public safety gives us the constitutional right to conduct these random inspections," said the Transportation Security Administration's Melendez.