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TSA aims to install armed guards at airport security checkpoints

Published time: March 27, 2014 23:00
David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

The US Transportation Security Administration has asked for armed law enforcement officers to guard airport security checkpoints at busy times, a proposal that comes months after a shooter opened fire at a crowded California airport checkpoint.

The TSA released a 25-page report to Congress on Wednesday, making 14 recommendations on how to best prepare for and respond to an emergency, such as when a gunman killed a TSA officer and injured three others at Los Angeles International Airport in November.

The report, first obtained by the Associated Press, requests that armed police officers supervise passengers waiting at security lines and ticket counters at busy travel times. Currently, TSA officers do not carry firearms and rely on local authorities to make arrests if a traveler is caught trying to smuggle weapons or drugs, for example. Police officers are already present in airports, a small number patrol gates where fliers are waiting to board their planes.

TSA Administrator John Pistole told the Los Angeles Times the suggestions are a “measured response” to the November 1 attack. Since then, more TSA officers have reported that they fear for their safety at work.

The bottom line of all this is…that we are doing everything we can to provide for the best possible safety and security,” he said.

Other recommendations include mandatory training for all TSA officers on how to respond to a shooter situation, bi-annual evacuation drills, the installation of panic buttons at airports currently without the alarm system, and more security cameras, among others.

The report specifically notes that local police officers, not TSA officers, should be the ones making the armed security details. Approximately 323 airports receive a federal stipend in exchange for paying the police officers assigned there, and their decision on whether to introduce the suggestions will likely depend on local priorities.

Texas Police Chief Yousry Zakhary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, was consulted on the report and told USA Today that, ideally, local and federal agencies would be able to balance training and finances.

“I think in a perfect world if we had all the money and resources that would be great, but unfortunately these are going to have to be done on a calculated risk based on peak times and funding that is available,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an agency that can afford to put police at every checkpoint. You might see roving patrols.”

In part because of the budgetary concerns, the sources who spoke to the AP said the report likely boosts the TSA union’s longstanding request for teams of armed TSA officers. The National president of the American Federation of Government Employees, J. David Cox, said such a measure would help municipalities meet federal guidelines that are often neglected.

The current patchwork of local law enforcement agencies across the country inevitability leaves gaps in security, as we saw at LAX,” he said. “Only an armed law enforcement unit within TSA can ensure the constant and consistent presence of sufficient law enforcement resources needed in the immediate area of the checkpoints and other key locations in order to prevent another tragedy like the one that occurred at LAX.”

The TSA does have 37 Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. The heavily-armed teams have mostly inspected transportation hubs (other than airports), but since the November shooting 50-percent of the VIPR teams have patrolled airports.

Paul Ciancia, the alleged LAX gunman, previously pleaded not guilty to murder and a number of other federal charges related to the shooting last year. Gerardo Hernandez, a 39-year-old father of two, was the first NSA officer to be killed in the line of duty that day. US Attorney General Eric Holder is currently weighing whether to seek the death penalty for the 24-year-old.