NY Police official defends subway searches


By LARRY NEUMEISTER
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- A top police official defended the city's policy of screening subway riders, testifying that the random searches are necessary to thwart terrorists who may target areas with few officers.

Deputy Police Commissioner David Cohen on Monday told a federal judge that the searches were important to keep terrorists guessing about law enforcement activity.

"Unpredictability is the enemy of terrorists and the ally of those trying to prevent an attack," said Cohen, who spent much of a three-decade career at the CIA analyzing the threat of terrorism.

The trial that got under way Monday before U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman centers on a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several subway riders.

At issue are the random searches that began in the nation's largest subway system after deadly terrorist bombings in London's subway system in July.

Christopher Dunn, director of the NYCLU, said the searches were unconstitutional, saying they were imposed only on innocent New Yorkers at a place that was "an extension of our city's public sidewalks."

He said it was "difficult to understand how anybody could believe sophisticated terrorists looking to attack the subway system are going to be deterred by this program."

In papers accompanying his testimony, Cohen said similar tactics have prevented attacks, such as the 2003 arrest of a man who plotted to cut through cables supporting the Brooklyn Bridge but abandoned the plan because of regular-but-unpredictable police patrols.

The NYCLU said in court papers that its own survey of 5,500 subway turnstile entrances from Aug. 25 to Sept. 16 found a total of just 34 searches in the subway system that contains 468 stations serving millions of passengers.

The search program, the group said, "has no meaningful value in preventing the entry of explosive devices into the system."

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