Commuting By Bus In Denver?
Papers, Please.

DEB DAVIS LIKES to commute to work by public bus. She uses the time to read, crochet or pay bills. It's her quiet time. What with the high price of gas, she saves money, too: a week's worth of gas money gets her a month's worth of bus rides.

Aerial View of Denver Federal Center

An aerial view of the Denver Federal Center.

The bus she rides crosses the property of the Denver Federal Center, a collection of government offices such as the Veterans Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and part of the National Archives. The Denver Federal Center is not a high security area: it's not Area 51 or NORAD.

On her first day commuting to work by bus, the bus stopped at the gates of the Denver Federal Center. A security guard got on and demanded that all of the passengers on this public bus produce ID. She was surprised by the demand of the man in uniform, but she complied: it would have meant a walk of several miles if she hadn't. Her ID was not taken and compared to any "no-ride" list. The guard barely glanced at it.

When she got home, what had happened on the bus began to bother her. 'This is not a police state or communist Russia', she thought. From her 8th grade Civics class she knew there is no law requiring her, as an American citizen, to carry ID or any papers, much less show them to anyone on a public bus.

She decided she would no longer show her ID on the bus.

The Compliance Test

On Monday, September 26th 2005, Deb Davis headed off to work on the route 100 bus. When the bus got to the gates of the Denver Federal Center, a guard got on and asked her if she had an ID. She answered in the affirmative. He asked if he could see it. She said no.


Visitors Welcome (to be arrested). The entrance to the Denver Federal Center.

When the guard asked why she wouldn't show her ID, Deb told him that she didn't have to do so. The guard then ordered her off the bus. Deb refused, stating she was riding a public bus and just trying to get to work.

The guard then went to call his supervisor, and returned shortly with a federal policeman. The federal cop then demanded her ID. Deb politely explained once again that she would not show her ID, and she was simply commuting to work. He left, returning shortly thereafter with a second policeman in tow.

The Second Compliance Test

This second cop asked the same question and got the same answer: no showing of ID, no getting off the bus.

The cop was also annoyed with the fact that she was on the phone with a friend and didn't feel like hanging up, even when he 'ordered' her to do so.

The second cop said everyone had to show ID any time they were asked by the police, adding that if she were in a Wal-Mart and was asked by the police for ID, that she would have to show it there, too.

She explained that she didn't have to show him or any other policeman my ID on a public bus or in a Wal-Mart. She told him she was simply trying to go to work.

The Arrest

Suddenly, the second policeman shouted "Grab her!" and he grabbed the cell phone from her and threw it to the back of the bus. With each of the policemen wrenching one of her arms behind her back, she was jerked out of her seat, the contents of her purse and book bag flying everywhere. The cops shoved her out of the bus, handcuffed her, threw her into the back seat of a police cruiser, and drove her to a police station inside the confines of the Denver Federal Center.

Once inside, she was taken down a hall and told to sit in a chair, still handcuffed, while one of the policemen went through her purse, now retrieved from the bus.

The two policemen sat in front of their computers, typing and conferring, trying to figure out what they should charge her with. Eventually, they wrote up several tickets, took her outside and removed the handcuffs, returned her belongings, and pointed her toward the bus stop. She was told that if she ever entered the Denver Federal Center again, she would go to jail.

She hasn't commuted by public bus since that day.

What are the issues involved?