Transportation Security Officers have a thankless job; now one is dead

Joe Davidson
Columnist November 2, 2013

Being a Transportation Security Officer, a TSO, can be a thankless job.

It’s certainly not lucrative. And as of Friday, it seems a lot less safe.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

You’re on your feet all day, making anxious airline travelers wait in sometimes long lines, while you and your colleagues pry into their baggage, gaze at their full-body scans, even X-ray their shoes.

Impatient, irate travelers come with the job.

Now you must worry about killers, too.

Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was the first Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer killed in the line of duty since the agency was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was allegedly gunned down by Paul A. Ciancia, 23, at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday.

He had been on the job since June 2010 and was in the agency’s pay band E — top pay $44,000.

Two other TSA agents also were shot but are recovering.

“No words can explain the horror,” TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said in a message to employees Friday. He flew from Washington to Los Angeles on Saturday to meet with the Hernandez family and the injured officers.

Ciancia was wounded at the airport by police, who found a note that said he “wanted to kill TSA.”

Apparently he did.

“My heart hurts,” said Kimberly Kraynak-Lambert, a TSA behavior detection officer at Pittsburgh International Airport. “Our hearts are broken. We’re devastated by this.”

A timeline of events from the LAX TSA shooting

Some TSA officers are trained to look for people who are particularly creepy, in the do-harm-to-others sense. But as Friday’s shooting shows, the unarmed officers can’t always spot potential criminals soon enough to prevent harm. The LAX shooting indicates “a serious conversation,” as Kraynak-Lambert said, about how additional safety measures are needed.

Speaking as president of an American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) local, Kraynak-Lambert said police should be stationed in front of security checkpoints, not just toward the end of security lines as is often the case.

The shooting, she said, “showed anybody can walk into the airport with anything.”

“I think that we should see more of a law enforcement presence,” she added. “I think whatever law enforcement entity that is currently at our airport needs to be increased by either roaming patrols and police in front and behind our security checkpoints. . . . We waste precious time calling for law enforcement if there is an incident at our checkpoints and [they] are not readily available.

AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. called for more TSA officers and wants some of them to have arrest powers. He doesn’t advocate arming them. But allowing TSOs to have “arrest authority would be very beneficial for these officers,” he said.

Police are stationed at many airport checkpoints, but not all, Cox said.

“I travel all over the country,” he said, “and I go through a lot of checkpoints where there is not a local police officer.”

While Hernandez is the first killed on duty, Cox said “assaults on TSA officers occur on a daily basis.” That’s why AFGE opposed a since-abandoned TSA plan to allow passengers to carry small knives.

Added Cox: “These officers are assaulted frequently in the line of duty.”

Now one is dead.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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