Should travelers be fined if they leave unattended bags?
Last week, the New Jersey Transit train station in Ridgewood was shut down, train service was suspended and the Bergen County bomb squad was called in after an NJ Transit worker spotted what was considered to be a suspicious, unattended package.
The "threatening package" turned out to be nothing but a pair of sneakers in a box with part of a metal hanger sticking out from underneath it. But the damage was already done.
The incident disrupted travel, caused extensive delays and wound up costing several thousand dollars after law enforcement officials rushed to the scene.
One New Jersey lawmaker is now considering crafting legislation to deal with this kind of situation, which happens several times a year in the Garden State.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said his measure could require fines and perhaps other penalties to be imposed if someone leaves a box, bag or package — even by accident — at an airport or a train station.
“We’re starting this debate. We’re doing some research on it. We’re calling people who work at airports and we’re determining whether there should be a penalty and a fine for someone who leaves an unattended bag,” he said. “We want people to be more responsible because the costs to society and to individual people, when you leave something at the airport unattended, is substantial.”
“What I’m looking for from Homeland Security and local law enforcement officials is – if we had a bill that would fine someone $150, $200, $250 for leaving an unintended package in the airport for example, would that have a chilling effect on people reporting these kinds of situations or not?” he said.
Bramnick said fining someone is obviously not going to cover the cost of mobilizing a bomb squad, but it might help to make an impression on people.
“What you’re trying to do is send a message out there and say 'Hey ... I don’t want to pay $250, I don’t want to pay $200 if I leave a bag here,” he said. “It may be just an incentive or refreshes someone’s memory as to how important it is to take your bag.”
He stressed in addition to speaking with government, airport and transportation officials about this idea “I was hoping maybe (New Jersey) 101.5 would have at least some time devoted to this topic, and I’d be happy to listen to it and make a determination based on how public feels as well.”
He said if he does move forward with the legislation and fines are collected for leaving unattended bags or packages in transportation hubs, the money should go to the Office of Homeland Security, “not into the Trenton general fund. I can guarantee you that would be in the bill.”
Bramnick said the bottom line is “we don’t want too much government here, but on the other hand I think it’s important we take feedback from the public whether they think this is a good idea. It’s under consideration and we’re going to study it, as government does quite well. I’m going to let you know in the next few weeks whether we introduce that legislation.”
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