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NY group sues, saying police subway bag searches are useless

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- Five city subway riders and a civil liberties group sued the city Thursday to stop random police inspections of bags in subways, calling the searches ineffective, unconstitutional and a publicity stunt that does not enhance safety.

"It's a needle-in-the-haystack approach to law enforcement," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

She and other members of the group who spoke at a news conference to announce the lawsuit said they want police to stop terrorists and improve safety, but not with useless measures designed to give subway riders a false sense of security.

Christopher Dunn, the New York Civil Liberties Union's associate legal director, said the policy announced July 21 was akin to a random search of people's bags and packages on public streets and a violation of a fundamental civil right.

But Gail Donoghue, a city lawyer, said the subway searches meet all legal requirements and preserve "the important balance between protecting our city and preserving individual rights."

She added, "We believe the NYCLU is shortsighted in failing to recognize this. We are confident our position will prevail in court."

Spot checks by the NYCLU since the policy began show that police conduct the searches at few stations with little effect since anyone can refuse the search and enter the subway's 468 stations at another point, he said.

As a result, he said, only innocent people are subjected to the unreasonable search and seizure that the Constitution outlaws.

"What is the point of searching a bunch of grandmas going down the subway steps with their Macy's bags?" he asked.

Among five plaintiffs was Brendan MacWade, 32, who escaped the World Trade Center towers after they were struck by hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I want to catch terrorists as much as any politicians or officials but this policy does not work," he said.

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