TSA Leaves Big Footprint with TRAX
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Oct 02, 2008
Most of my memories of Utah are fond and
enjoyable; others are not so good. My first
brush with security came years ago in the old
ZCMI department store. A pickpocket took all of my
disposable income, and I thought my life as a paperboy
had come to a screeching halt.
The thief got $20 and a nearly new billfold. After a
little consoling from my parents, I learned that it isn’t the
place -- criminals are everywhere.
I still like Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Front area.
Though I live in Dallas now, I still read the local news with
interest and an article in the newspaper recently caught my
eye. In early August, the Utah Transit Authority’s
FrontRunner began service from Salt Lake City to Ogden,
a 44-mile commuter rail along the metro area.
It didn’t take long before law enforcement got involved.
On Aug. 6, as the FrontRunner arrived at the station
in Farmington, commuters were greeted by a heavy
police presence at the train station. It was all part of a
new Department of Homeland Security initiative called
the Visual Intermodal Presence and Response to focus
on surface transportation security, which includes commuter
trains and buses.
According to local Transportation Security
Administration director Earl Morris, the methodology is
random and unpredictable. He said on any given day his
officers could show a strong presence. On other days
they won’t be seen, but they are supposedly there.
Morris’ officers also include federal air marshals, as well
as local police, who patrol along the rail platforms.
Plainclothes officers blend in with commuters on trains.
What is in Salt Lake City that terrorists would find
especially inviting? Utah boasts the greatest snow on earth,
but I doubt that’s an issue. There is Hill Air Force Base, but
it is secure with perimeter guards and checkpoints.
“We don’t divulge specifically what we’re looking
for,” Morris said in an interview with a local daily newspaper.
“There is a difference between a person who is
late for a train and people who are nervous because
they’ve been involved in criminal activity.”
Since Morris is talking about commuters, or potential
criminals using FrontRunner, some of the comments
registered by commuters sound much like what you and
I would think. One reader of a local daily newspaper
wrote, “Sadly, many Americans will find their presense
(sic) reassuring. Comforted in knowing that Big Brother
is there to take care of them.”
Another commuter rider said, “What a joke. They
were all standing around chatting with each other or trying
to look ‘bigger and badder’ than the agency next to
them. It would be much better to actually do some
good.” Another commuter had this to say: “I wasn’t worried
about safety on the train before. I’m worried now,
though. This could become as much of a security-theater
boondoggle as the one at the airport.”
OK, I haven’t been to Salt Lake City in a while, but
could it have changed that much? Is the Wasatch Front a
terrorists’ haven? Are there threats of specific interest?
Morris said there have been no threats against mass transit,
but he also said vigilance is needed after the recent
commuter train bombings in Madrid and London.
Last time I checked, Madrid and London were
halfway around the world. I don’t remember metro commuter
lines taking additional precautions in 1995 after a
bombing in the Paris subway. I do remember being in
Paris a couple months after that bombing -- and while
there were police and military riding some of the trains,
there wasn’t an overbearing presence. In fact, one policeman
and two armed military men were happy to let me
take their photograph.
The French took the bombing seriously because it
was the eighth in a series of attempts since July 1995.
Police called them an act of terrorism. The one thing
they didn’t do was stand around enmasse.
Morris acknowledged that there are limited
resources, and a cooperative effort between federal, state
and local law enforcement should be maintained on
commuter trains. Surface transportation is a huge part of
doing business every day, and, he said, there are a lot of
people riding mass transit systems.
The bottom line for TSA is to be proactive and prevent
problems from developing. Morris said people can
expect to see more of this kind of policing.
Aviation security remains the top priority for TSA,
but apparently with flights being cut or scaled back, officials
now have more time to devote to commuter rail systems
to “prevent any kind of harm ... from the catastrophic
to the mundane.”
I’m not sure if this qualifies as paranoia, but it appears
the irregular, sporadic show of law enforcement is meant
to tell the bad guys -- whether they are terrorists or
common criminals -- that they can never be sure which
day crime won’t pay for them. While it sounds a lot like
overkill on the part of law enforcement, they have a
mission and it appears they are taking it seriously.