No illegal searches by CPs at recent concert
(The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Adam L. Dershowitz G.)
Please be advised I have received your letter concerning allegations that officers of the MIT Campus Police conducted illegal searches on individuals entering the Psychedelic Furs concert at the Johnson Athletic Center on Spring Weekend ["Campus Police should not conduct searches at events," May 11]. I see that you have sent a copy of your letter to The Tech and others. I wish that you had let me respond to you first, before involving the general public. That would have spared you the embarrassment of having others know that your claims are inaccurate and are based on a simple misunderstanding of what occurred.
Your basic mistake is your assumption that the Campus Police were engaged in "searches" for which probable cause was required. In fact, the officers were merely carrying out inspections to enforce the conditions upon which people were admitted to the concert. The performing group required, as part of its contract with the sponsors of the concert, that no cameras or recording devices be permitted in the area where they played. This condition is typically part of most performing artists' contracts, to protect their rights in their music and reputations, and to avoid disruptions of their performance. Signs were posted stating that cameras and recording devices were not permitted.
Another contractual obligation imposed by the group was that no containers of soda be permitted at the concert. In connection with that requirement, the organizers of the event sealed off the soda vending machines in the area so no purchases could be made beyond the entrance point. The news media have recently reported several incidents of performers or members of the audience being injured when soda cans were thrown at the stage, and the performers apparently were concerned enough about the risks that they wanted these precautions taken.
Cambridge city ordinances prohibit open containers of alcohol at public events like this concert, and individuals who arrived with alcoholic beverages were required to dispose of them in <>
a barrel placed at the entrance point for that specific purpose.
The Campus Police assigned to this Spring Weekend concert were instructed to enforce these contractual requirements and city ordinances by inspecting those entering the concert. The difference between those inspections and searches for which probable cause is required, which you appear not to understand, is that the inspections were entirely voluntary, as a condition for admission of those who wanted to attend the concert. Individuals could decline the inspection and leave the area if they wished. A search for which probable cause is required, in contrast, is not voluntary, and the person searched cannot choose to avoid the search by walking away.
The law recognizes this distinction every day. When you go to an airport or enter certain public buildings such as post offices <>
or courthouses (or even Fenway Park), you are subject to an <>
even more thorough inspection. No probable cause is required, because you have the option of avoiding inspection by not seeking admission. That is the legal principle that applied at the Spring Weekend concert.
With regard to your claim that the Campus Police officers randomly selected people to be subject to inspection, once again you have misunderstood what happened. The instructions to the officers were to inspect persons carrying handbags, backpacks, shopping bags, overcoats and similar items, because those are the kinds of items in which cameras, recording devices, and beverages can be concealed. People who were dressed in street clothes and were not carrying anything were not asked to step to the inspection area, because there was no reason to look further to see if they were concealing items that were of concern.
I hope that with this further information you can understand that the activities of the MIT Campus Police at the Spring Weekend concert were well within legal bounds, and did not violate anyone's constitutional rights. On the contrary, the work of the officers that night enabled those who attended to hear a popular performing group, because the concert's sponsors were able to meet the conditions that the group itself imposed. The exclusion of the prohibited items worked to protect the safety and enjoyment of everyone present.
Two further technical points. You incorrectly claim that the MIT Campus Police are "deputized Cambridge Police officers." In fact, the laws of the Commonwealth give the Campus Police themselves the authority of regular police officers for any criminal offenses committed in or upon property owned, used, or occupied by MIT.
Second, it is at all times the duty of MIT Campus Police officers to enforce the public safety and good order. Therefore if any of the officers detailed to the concert had observed any incident, or received reliable information, that would have given him or her probable cause to conduct a search, he or she would have done so. For example, if someone had seen a concertgoer carrying a weapon, an officer who was aware of that possibility would have had grounds to conduct a search. In that case, the constitutional protections that you refer to would be met. I am sure that the MIT community at large expects the officers of the Campus Police to take action in such cases, for the safety of everyone concerned.
Anne P. Glavin->
Chief of Campus Police->