The shooting today at LAX reportedly of four TSA Officers, one reportedly killed, is a rare moment when TSA Officers who are the frontlines in keeping our airways safe since 9/11 receive positive press coverage. As the founding president of AFGE Local 1, this is no surprise. TSA Offices are vigilant, professional and disciplined. I recall an earlier shooting incident in Las Vegas where it was remarked that TSA Officers stood in their positions on the checkpoint while others hit the ground.
It is surprising to see the ongoing coverage of this incident revealing how little the news media knows about TSA Operations. Some of that knowledge is Sensitive Security Information but much of it is known to anyone who travels. Here’s some fundamental non-SSI information about TSA operations:
- TSA Officers are not armed. In the original TSA plan all security would be TSA Officers included armed personnel. Due to budget constraints and unanticipated costs of the initial rollout armed security was contracted out to airport authority police and that has remained the case.
- TSA Officers are trained to maintain control of the checkpoint area including the exit lanes to ensure that nothing distracts Officers from their duty to observe passengers prior to and during the screening process. TSA Officers maintain their positions during any incident be it a shooting or altercation as they are trained to consider any disruption a possible planned distraction to allow someone or something past the checkpoint putting all passengers and aircraft at risk.
- TSA Officers screen passengers and their property and the screening process begins in the queue. While Officers check for proper identification they are also observing anything that may require additional attention.
- TSA uses behavioral screening not profiling. Officers are trained to quickly observe and analyze behavior of passengers or others throughout the terminal. Some Officers are trained to monitor and identify passengers who require additional screening such as pat-downs and bag searches. Typically passengers and their property are more thoroughly screened only if setting off an alarm of to check the possibility of a prohibited item in their baggage.
- TSA monitors all activity on the checkpoint, in the terminal and on airport property. Other methods are utilized and that is Sensitive Security Information.
TSA was created by an Act of Congress in November, 2001 and immediately thousands of Americans stood up to serve. Under extremely difficult circumstances we were trained and deployed into service in a matter of months I served at Baltimore-Washington International Airport beginning March, 2002. BWI was the first airport staffed completely with local officers. Initially a Mobile Screening Force was deployed to set up and train officers as each airport was federalized.
TSA has enemies most prominently Rep. John Mica R-FL who advocates re-privatizing aviation screening operations. He has worked to keep TSA staffing below standards and reacts with enthusiasm when any real or perceived failure of TSA operations.
After more than ten years of dedicated service TSA Officers have maintained a perfect performance record responding to new threats with seamless professionalism. Regrettably this tragedy may refocus Congress on providing TSA the resources, staffing and respect they need to continue as the first line of defense against terrorists and those wishing to do harm to anyone traveling America’s skies.