TSA wants armed police at airport checkpoints

TSA wants armed police at airport checkpoints

Credit: Reed Saxon, AP

Police stand guard at Los Angeles International Airport on Nov. 1, 2013 after a gunman opened fire.


by Bart Jansen/USA Today


Posted on March 26, 2014 at 2:54 PM

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration is proposing that armed law-enforcement officers help guard airport checkpoints during busy times, in reaction to the November shooting of a TSA officer in Los Angeles.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said the proposal followed a comprehensive review, after a gunman killed TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounded three others at Los Angeles International Airport.

A 26-page report released Wednesday made 14 recommendations, including having a police presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak travel times.

Other recommendations include more training for dealing with gunmen and improving emergency communications in airports.

TSA checkpoint officers aren't armed and they call for local police to handle criminal matters, such as a traveler carrying a gun. Armed police often patrol airports.

TSA does have 37 VIPR teams, which stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, which are heavily armed. While 70% of the teams had patrolled surface transportation such as train stations before the shooting, half the teams now patrol airports.

"We have already taken action on some recommendations," Pistole told TSA workers Wednesday in a note obtained by USA TODAY. "Based on input from employees and key industry stakeholders, we have been focused on mandatory training, improved communication systems and policies, and enhanced law enforcement presence."

Kevin Burke, CEO of Airports Council International-North America, called the recommendations common sense and commended Pistole's collaborative work "to mitigate active shooter situations."

In the Los Angeles shooting Nov. 1, it took several minutes for police to respond and even longer for Hernandez to receive medical care. Police and security officers sometimes use different radio systems in airports, and the Los Angeles shooting was reported by cellphone.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, commended Pistole for his extensive outreach to make airline travel safer and more secure.

"However, I have lingering concerns about the ability of TSA personnel to communicate with first responders during emergencies," Thompson said.

A committee hearing is scheduled Friday at the Los Angeles airport.

The union representing TSA workers proposed in March creating a new type of officer who is armed.

"We need to build a system capable of preventing or neutralizing such emergencies before they become tragedies," AFGE President David Cox said of armed officers in March. "This will ensure a consistent, professional and coordinated response in the event an incident like this occurs again."

The alleged gunman, Paul Ciancia, was indicted on 11 charges and has pleaded not guilty.