METRO's counter-terror intitiave draws criticism

April 20, 2012 4:49:59 PM PDT
One week after METRO rolled out what it called an unprecedented approach to safety, there is criticism of just what happened. It was a big operation with what critics have called questionable results.

You paid for 81 cops to saturate Houston bus stops and routes last Friday. Most were from METRO, but some were from the federal Transportation Security Administration, as well as HPD.

The counter-terror exercise resulted in 14 arrests, but no terrorists. They found seven alleged prostitutes, two drug users, one dealer, two bad drivers and two more wanted suspects. But they also found a lot of criticism.

It was a big day for METRO last Friday.

"We're putting a lot of resources into this initiative," METRO Police Department Chief Victor Rodriguez said then.

METRO called it a synchronized, counter-terrorism exercise, and the first ever in Houston welcoming the federal TSA to Houston bus stops.

"TSA is an anti-terrorism organization," said Doyle Rains with the TSA.

But a week later, METRO admits there was no specific terror threat in Houston. Friday's sting didn't find any, and critics are angry.

"This isn't about terrorism -- they're not busting terrorists, they're not finding bombs. And that's not even what they're trying to do," said Mark Bennett, a Houston criminal defense attorney.

Bennett's concern started when he saw a METRO blog saying that TSA and METRO did random warrant-less bag checks of bus riders. METRO now says they didn't do that.

"We did zero random bag checks," Rodriguez said.

"I don't believe they didn't do any searches. The reason I don't believe it is before the operation, they announced there were going to be random bag checks. And after the investigation, they announced in their official blog that there had been bag checks," Bennett said.

If it was wrong, METRO had time to correct it. The blog posted three days after the operation was over and it was still there this Friday -- a week later when we asked the chief about it.

"It's still there? Oh, I did not realize that," Rodriguez said.

It was corrected minutes later.

Regardless of what happened last week, Rodriguez said will continue in the very near future and when they do, he maintains he does have the right to search your bag and may tell his officers to do it.

"If the facts and circumstances change, it could be at some point," Rodriguez said.

"When you say to a poor, working-class person, either we search your bag or you can't ride the bus, it says you can't go to work without our permission," Bennett said.

But that's not the only concern. Of the 14 arrests METRO made, 12 were of African American suspects; and while METRO denies profiling, it is a large percentage.

"It is something I will take a closer look at," Rodriguez said.

"I don't know that it's fair to say they're targeting African Americans, but they're targeting people in a way that happens to get African Americans," Bennett said.

"Is that OK?" we asked.

"No, it's not OK," Bennett replied.

Rodriguez says he will conduct these bus safe operations again, maybe as soon as a few weeks from now. He says he has no plans to search your bag without a warrant unless threats change here in Houston.


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