October 27, 2014

Police to begin random bag checks on CTA with federal anti-terrorism grant

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) will begin random bag checks for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) passengers next Monday.

CTA commuters will be subject to a random, compulsory swabbing of their bags. The police will swab passengers’ bags with sticks designed to test whether traces of explosive materials are present. The search does not require passengers to open their bags.

Approximately four to five CPD officers will conduct the tests from a portable table on randomly selected El routes. The tests will occur at one El stop per day, primarily at downtown stations during rush hour.

The process should take “less than one minute of a passenger’s time to conduct,” according to a CPD press release. The short time frame for searches, plus the random nature of the searches, leads the CTA to maintain that traffic should not be significantly altered through the change.

Although the project is funded through a $3.5-million federal anti-terrorism grant, the CTA and the CPD emphasized that Chicago is not more susceptible to an attack than other American cities.

“There are no credible threats to Chicago or the region’s public transportation facilities,” Police Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy said at a press conference last Friday. “Chicago is taking this step, as other major cities in the United States and around the world have already done.”

Some UChicago students expressed curiosity over the new initiative.

“The CTA has not had any kind of previous security systems in place, so it seems interesting that they look specifically for explosives rather than guns, for instance,” Nick Brown, a graduate student who takes the Red Line to school each day, said.

Despite the changes, Brown said he will continue to commute to the University.