Over the past four years, Baltimore, Maryland commuters have been subjected to Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) police “fare-skipping” sweeps.
WJZ 13 News reported that the MTA police have been conducting “fare-skipping” sweeps on light trains since 2015.
“There’s police officers and fare enforcement officers on every train all day long. They’re on all the trains,” MTA Administrator Paul Comfort said.
The MTA police even went so far as to create a fare “Sweeps Month” that transit police boasted would help catch fare-skipping commuters.
According to their own website the MTA police department’s “strategic programs are designed to offer the utmost in protection” by conducting video surveillance of commuters and weekly fare-skipping sweeps:
- Uniform Patrol and Plainclothes Units
- Detective Unit
- Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) Teams/Tactical Unit
- Video Surveillance Teams
- Bicycle Patrol Unit
- Motorcycle Patrol Unit
- K-9 Police Officer Unit
- Homeland Security Drills
- Weekly Zone Enforced Unified Sweeps
In 2017, the MTA police expanded their weekly zone enforced unified sweeps to include every commuter.
A recent Appeals court ruling revealed how every commuter including Kennard Carter, was forced to prove that they paid their fares.
“Corporal Latoya Russell testified that passengers are not allowed to leave the train while the inspections are conducted. Any passenger who refuses, or is unable, to produce their fare ticket is ordered off the train and directed to the officers on the platform to receive a citation.”
“Corporal Russell also testified that officers typically collect identifying information and run warrant checks through MTA dispatch on every passenger who receives a citation for traveling without a fare ticket. Furthermore, when later asked, Corporal Russell answered in the affirmative that fare inspections are “an apparatus to be able to check people for warrants.”
Transit police are using fare-skipping sweeps to collect identifying information on innocent commuters and check their criminal records.
“In fact, officers testified that fare inspections are used as a vehicle to conduct outstanding warrant searches. As the primary purpose was to “uncover evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.”
The MTA police also tried to justify stopping every commuter by claiming “that fare inspections are voluntary under the principle of implied consent” and detaining everyone was similar to detaining people at DWI checkpoints.
“The State compares the MTA’s action with a sobriety checkpoint to show that warrantless seizures have been deemed constitutional in the past.”
But for once, an Appeals court didn’t buy their argument and ruled that police cannot treat every commuter like a suspected criminal by “effectively trapping all patrons inside the train car.”
“It also rejects Appellant’s reliance on City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000), by emphasizing that while Edmond rejected seizures whose purpose is to reveal if a motorist committed any crime the MTA’s fare inspections were tailored solely towards finding those who violated Md. Code, Trans. § 7-705.”
The Appeals court said that the MTA’s fare-skipping sweeps are nothing like Edmond and more like a government fishing expedition. “Appellant concludes that the MTA’s suspicionless fishing expeditions are strictly prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.”
In 2018, the MTA let commuters pay with their smartphones using an app called, “CharmPass”.
“When you purchase a one-way fare for BaltimoreLink local buses, Metro SubwayLink, and Light RailLink, your fare is automatically valid for 90 minutes. That’s 90 minutes of FREE transfers across all MDOT MTA core services.”
CharmPass gives commuters 90 minutes to get home or arrive at their destination. But what happens if the bus gets stuck in traffic or the weather turns bad or their smartphones’ battery dies or it loses connection? Would anyone like to guess what happens?
While I am happy to see an Appeals court rule in favor of our Fourth Amendment and protect our rights against unchecked police authority, there is one thing that bothers me; why has this flagrant abuse of authority been allowed to go on for four years?
Using bogus fare-skipping sweeps as an excuse to violate our rights affects everyone. Commuters should not live in fear that they will be stopped by the police while using public transit.
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