Tighter security under way on ferries

While state troopers won’t search vehicles waiting to board ferries, they will randomly ride the boats and patrol terminals as an enhanced security measure.

“Their presence is a deterrent,” Washington State Ferries spokesperson Susan Harris said Tuesday. “They choose a day, time and vessel to ride. Today, they are at Colman Dock.”

WSP officers were clearly visible in the pilothouse of the ferry Tacoma last Saturday, watching Bainbridge passengers board the 4:35 p.m. sailing before the Mariners game. The officers walked through the cabin during the trip.

The troopers’ presence defused what could otherwise have been a suspicious situation last week, Harris said.

On July 3, a number of passengers aboard the Tacoma reported to the crew that several men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent were videotaping the vessel’s interior on a sailing from Bainbridge to Seattle.

“WSP officers had already made contact with the men, and determined that they were tourists,” Harris said.

It was the second incident in 10 days in which passengers reported that foreign-looking men were acting suspiciously.

In the first incident, which occurred on the Edmonds to Kingston run on June 24, several men were reported taking notes and talking on cell phones during a round-trip run on the Spokane.

“They were very interested in the interior of the vessel, which you don’t often see, and appeared to have no interest in the scenery,” Harris said.

Because of those incidents, ferry crews are on what Harris describes as a state of “heightened alert,” reporting anything that seems out of the ordinary. Central control personnel will in turn contact the State Patrol and the Coast Guard.

“We have no specific information about terrorist threats,” Harris said, “but we are asking the crew and the passengers to be more alert. We expect to have people reporting a lot more things as a result.”

WSP suspended random vehicle searches in late June, in part at the urging of Rep. Phil Rockefeller, (D-Bainbridge Island), who told the WSP that the Legislature had not authorized such searches.

“We are troubled in the suggestion that by approving the Patrol’s budget request, the Legislature either impliedly or explicitly approved or encouraged the searches,” Rockefeller wrote in a memo to WSP chief Ronal Serpas, which was also signed by state senators Betti Sheldon (D-Bremerton) and Pat Lantz (D-Tacoma).

Rockefeller noted that random presence aboard vessels, searches of commercial vehicles and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs were specifically approved by the Legislature. The WSP suspended the searches the same day it received the memo, after receiving complaints from other legislators and private citizens.

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