METRO faces public backlash over counter-terror intitiave


METRO first said it would search passengers' bags, then said that didn't happen. Now, METRO says it never will.

The METRO counter-terrorism exercise didn't round up any terrorists. Instead, 81 officers arrested 14 people, predominantly alleged prostitutes and dope smokers. More problematic for METRO is that it seemed to anger and confuse some of the agency's riders who weren't eager to have their bags searched.

"There are an awful lot of assets out here," METRO police chief Victor Rodriguez told Eyewitness News on April 13.

Two weeks after METRO made a big deal about bringing TSA to bus stops for a counter-terrorism exercise, dozens of angry citizens came to tell METRO to keep TSA away.

"We are here to loudly condemn METRO's recent violations of the United States constitution," Houston lawyer Robert Fickman said.

"You've gone one step too far by bringing the TSA into our house," another concerned resident said.

"In my opinion, the METRO board doesn't get it," said another.

On April 13, the METRO Police Department invited TSA to be a part of its bus-safe exercise. METRO said then and repeated for days afterwards there would be random searches of bus and train passengers' bags.

"To get inside my bag, it's my personal items. I am not going to let you in my bag unless you have a warrant," concerned resident Keith Francis said.

After an uproar, METRO says it never did any bag searches and never intended to, that the official METRO blog saying so was just a mistake.

"There was never an intention to do bag searches," METRO President and Chairman George Grenias said.

But for METRO rider Derrick Broze, it's not enough.

"I don't feel that by purchasing a ticket or riding a bus, I have to forfeit my constitutional rights to my protections and be subject to search or seizure," Broze said.

A friend of Broze took pictures of the bus-safe exercise that he says show TSA agents and METRO police asking riders where they're going as they get off the bus and how often they ride that route.

"METRO and TSA were going onto the buses and questioning people about their normal routes and their normal behavior, and it just kind of creates an atmosphere of fear," Broze said.

There aren't any photos of searches and METRO says none were done. After Thursday's showdown, the METRO chairman said it will stay that way so long as he is chairman.

"It's not going to happen while I am chairman -- putting in place random searches and seizures. We're going to get to the bottom of this and we'll have a lot more dialogue," Garcia said.

The METRO police chief told us last week he hoped to repeat the exercise within the next few weeks. No such promise was made on Thursday.

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