Federal authorities moved quickly last week in response to Friday’s shooting at Los Angeles International Airport, filing charges the next day against the alleged gunman who fatally shot one officer of the Transportation Security Administration and wounded at least two others.
While law-enforcement action has been swift, examining related TSA policies, including safety issues and screening rules, will take more time.
Authorities have said the suspected shooter, Paul A. Ciancia, a 23-year-old New Jersey native who was living in Los Angeles, carried a handwritten letter saying he “made the conscious decision to try to kill” TSA employees.
That raises a few questions for the TSA. Should the agency’s officers be armed? If so, what should they carry? And what does Friday’s incident say about the agency’s recent efforts to change its screening guidelines?
TSA Administrator John Pistole said Saturday that his organization will review its officer-safety policies and make efforts to prevent a repeat of Friday’s incident.
The TSA does not train its officers to use firearms, nor does it recruit or hire personnel based on their ability to do so. As such, preparing agents for potential shootouts in crowded airports would require a major overhaul of the agency’s mission and the way it conducts business.
Aviation-security expert Rafi Ron discussed this issue in more detail during an interview Sunday with an CBS affiliate.
American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox indicated during a news conference on Friday that his group is not interested in arming TSA officers, but he said that some personnel should have arrest powers. “That would be a step in the right direction and an improvement,” he said.
Cox also called for more staffing for the agency.
TSA is not the only federal law-enforcement agency with unarmed officers. The Bureau of Prisons generally prohibits its personnel from carrying weapons at work, although a few exceptions apply: Guards can use batons during emergency situations, and a few prisons have allowed personnel to carry pepper spray as part of a pilot program.
In terms of security standards, the TSA recently pulled back on plans that would allow passengers to carry small knives and other prohibited items aboard planes. The agency had scheduled the changes to take effect in April, but it tabled the idea three days before the deadline amid growing resistance from the TSA union and some lawmakers.
The agency had said the proposed changes conform with international standards and would allow its personnel to focus on finding other items such as explosives.
On Friday, Cox reiterated his group’s opposition to relaxing security rules. “Any type of weapon in a checkpoint area can be volatile,” he said at a news conference. “These officers are assaulted frequently in the line of duty, and we have a lot of on-the-job injuries that occur as a result of the assaults.”
As for screening policies, TSA expanded its pre-screening program to the general public, allowing participating members of the general public to move through select select security lanes without removing laptops, shoes, belts, or light outerwear — although they still have to submit to bag and body screenings.
The pre-screening program had no bearing on Ciansia’s ability to allegedly enter a terminal with an assault rifle. Authorities have said he shot his way through the checkpoint and that he was not a ticketed passenger, meaning he wasn’t supposed to move past the security gates at all.
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