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CTA Riders Confused, Concerned As Homeland Security Checks Bags At Addison Red Line

By Stephen Gossett in News on Feb 14, 2017 9:28PM


CTA riders expressed confusion and concern after encountering a security checkpoint—which included bag checks and Department of Homeland Security personnel—at a North Side Red Line stop on Tuesday morning.

A Chicago police department spokesperson confirmed that officers from the Public Transportation Section “were conducting bag checks” at the Addison Red Line station on Tuesday morning. “This is part of routine checks conducted randomly around the city,” police said. Homeland Security also participated in the security detail, CPD confirmed to Chicagoist.

The DHS presence at the CTA stop on Tuesday was that of the (at-times controversial) Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response personnel (VIPR), which falls under TSA's expanded purview, Thomas Kelly, of Homeland Security's Office of the Director/Public Affairs, confirmed. VIPR is deployed in concert with local police departments "in a random and unpredictable manner" as means of deterring terrorism, according to the TSA.

Abby Seitz was one of the travelers who had her bag inspected around 8:20 this morning. She told Chicagoist that she encountered at least seven or eight officers, all of whom wore Homeland Security badges and vests. “They were standing in a row against the wall with the ticket machines," Seitz said. "I did not see a single CPD officer in the line. They all had visible Homeland Security credentials. I looked around at most of them because I thought it was so peculiar.”

Lizzie Rosenthal noted seeing ten-plus officers when passing through the station, although she noted encountering Chicago police, rather than DHS. The experience “felt very ‘police state,’” she wrote on Facebook.

DHS “usually” operates with local police on routine checks “conducted randomly in in the city,” police said. "The Public Transportation Section along with Homeland Security were conducting random bag checks at CTA Addison Red Line station today with the Mobile Explosive Screening Team (MEST)," police said. The most recent similar checks took place on Feb. 8, at Merchandise Mart, and Feb. 10, at Clark and Lake, according to police. (A CTA spokesperson declined to comment.)

Reports circulated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement took part in Red Line stops that targeted people of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent, but Gail Montenegro, a spokesperson for ICE, denied that ICE was involved with checks at CTA stations on Tuesday (Editor's note: reports of profiling have been unverifiable and appear to be rumors.)

ICE said in a statement:

“Reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible. These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”

CPD's security-checkpoint system has been in operation since 2014, police told Chicagoist, but given the advanced state of worry in the wake of ICE raids and President Donald Trump's immigration ban, this morning's check raised more than a few eyebrows—and future ones will likely well do the same.

Related story: A Look At The Effectiveness & Legal History Of Mass-Transit Bag Checks
This post has been updated.