Passengers who buy a London train or tube ticket would automatically be giving their consent to be searched, under proposals now under consideration.Why? Well, it’s because of ‘knife crime’, naturally.
Senior British Transport police officials told MPs today that they wanted to change the railways' "conditions of carriage" to close a loophole that means officers using mobile knife-detecting arches at stations have no legal power to search someone who sets them off unless they have a reasonable suspicion that they are breaking the law.In other words, you need the same ‘reasonable suspicion’ to search passengers on the Tube as you do everyone else in the street. How infuriating for you! And the metal detector going off isn’t reasonable suspicion, since it can be set off by harmless things too.
So, bit pointless having these arches, is it? Well, no:
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Crowther of British Transport police told the Commons home affairs select committee that, as the law stood, it often made more sense to search passengers who deliberately avoided going through the arches.In other words, avoidance of the arch gives the reasonable suspicion to search.
You’d think that would satisfy them – after all, what’s the percentage of positive detector indications that then refuse to be searched? We aren’t told. So, no idea if it’s a problem or not. And we don’t just change our laws to suit the convenience of the police.
Well, we never used to.
Crowther told MPs the issue had arisen since 100 mobile search arches were deployed at railway stations and other crowded public places as part of the drive against knife crime.Where’s the debate then? You’ve just told this committee what you want!
"We want to conduct these measures with the support of the public and the community," he told journalists today. "I think we would need to engage in debate about whether there was an appetite for that and whether people saw it as reasonable and proportionate."
I for one don’t see it as ‘reasonable and proportionate’, mainly because it will, almost certainly, be abused.
The transport police chief told MPs they could currently use the arches only to scan people who volunteered to go through them, unless they had a reasonable suspicion the travellers were breaking the law. Police codes of practice ban voluntary searches.Does that really say what I think it says?
"In effect, a suspect may not be searched, even where consent is provided, in an absence of 'reasonable suspicion'; a procedural stumbling block to the unfettered use of knife arches," said transport police evidence to the MPs' inquiry into knife crime.
In other words, these knife scanners are just a massive publicity drive with little effect because there’s no legal basis for them?
"An exception to the procedural prohibition on the conduct of voluntary searches, however, is where submission to examination is a condition of entry to a named premises of a specific location. In relation to policing the railways, one [possibility] may be to have as a condition of carriage, when people purchase a ticket, that they agree to being searched."Or you could rethink the whole costly and inefficient scanner arch idea, and not rely on the ‘blanket search’ method merely so you cannot be accused of singling out the types (mostly young men) that are likely to carry knives?