Brandeis’s metal-detector searches

Last fall I wrote about the outrage of Brandeis Univeristy’s making campus visitors go through metal detectors. Since then I’ve found some information indicating that Brandeis has been ignoring its own policy and thereby depriving visitors of protection against theft by guards. The Brandeis Leadership Handbook (PDF) makes it clear that when metal detectors are used, Waltham police must be present: “Waltham Police is required for events using metal detectors or serving alcohol.” I didn’t see any police presence. Without police, there’s little to stop guards from pinching a bit of change as campus visitors have to empty their pockets. One of the guards took my stuff off into a corner, where he could easily have pocketed some of my change without anyone’s noticing, and he made noises about taking my Swiss Army knife.

I recently wrote to the Waltham Police to ask if they had assigned a police officer to Lyman Ballroom on November 5, 2012, and if having one was a legal requirement. The reply that I received said only:

I am in receipt of your letter of complaint regarding your experience at Brandeis University on November 5, 2012.

The Waltham Police Department does not have jurisdiction nor the authority to investigage allegations of an unlawful search on their private property or investigate the University for allegedly violating their own policy. Jurisdiction lies with Brandeis University or possibly with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

The reply addressed only my request to look into whether Brandeis is conducting illegal searches. This is probably just normal bureaucratic evasiveness, but it leaves me with no more reason than before to think that there was an officer whom I didn’t notice present. At the same time, I haven’t found any indication that a police presence is legally required; a Web search hasn’t turned up any mention of such a requirement.

This indicates that Brandeis’s unsupervised searches of visitors are probably legal, but they’re in violation of an implied promise of protection. It might actually be worse if a cop were there; the police might arrest people for vaguely suspicious things found in their pockets, and by “voluntarily” accepting the search as a condition of attending an event they’ve already paid for or having an important meeting, visitors very likely give up their Fourth Amendment rights. I’d rather have loose change or even a pocket knife stolen than be arrested.

Whether you run the risk of arbitrary arrest or of petty theft, the basic problem is the contempt which Brandeis shows for its visitors’ personal privacy.

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