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Lacking threat, car searches end

The searches are over, for now.

This week, the Washington State Patrol announced that it will temporarily discontinue the ferry dock vehicle searches it started last month as a security precaution against terrorism.

The program, which started shortly after Sept. 11 and took a hiatus between December and May due to a lack of funding, got a mixed review over the past few weeks, with some ferry riders objecting to state troopers looking through their cars and others welcoming it.

But public opinion had little or nothing to do with the discontinuation of the program. Captain Glen Kramer, a spokesman with the Washington State Patrol, said Monday that the patrol called off the random searches at the state's ferry landings because "known intelligence" regarding terrorism indicates there is no current threat to ferry boats or docks.

The search program, which is a cooperative action taken by the patrol, the United States Coast Guard and Washington State Ferries, took some heat locally when some citizens objected to it as a violation of their civil rights. The searches were not mandatory, but any driver refusing to have his or her vehicle searched could be required to leave the ferry line.

Pat Patterson, a spokesperson for the ferry system, said systemwide, ferry passengers generally supported the searches.

"We're getting a lot of positive feedback," she said.

But not all the comments are supportive.

"You either like it or you don't," Patterson said.

Vehicle searches could be re-instituted at any time, according to the patrol's Kramer. He said his agency will continue to review intelligence gathered by the federal government and state and local law enforcement. If the agency learns of a credible threat, troopers will return to the dock.

But for now, they will just watch from close by.

"We will keep an enhanced presence at the ferry landings and on ferry boats," he said.

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