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TSA wants police at checkpoints

Posted: March 26, 2014 2:38 p.m.
Updated: March 26, 2014 2:38 p.m.
 

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration recommended Wednesday that armed law enforcement officers be posted at security checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours in the aftermath of last year's fatal shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.

The 25-page report to Congress obtained by The Associated Press makes 14 recommendations that do not carry a price tag and are somewhat dependent on local authorities who provide airport security.

While airport security has been beefed up since 9/11, the LA shooting exposed communication problems and gaps in police patrols that left the terminal without an armed officer for nearly 3 1/2 minutes as a gunman targeted TSA officers with a rifle Nov. 1.

The AP has reported that the two armed officers assigned to Terminal 3 were on break that morning and hadn't notified dispatchers. Months earlier, LAX had changed staffing plans to have officers roam terminals instead of staffing checkpoints such as the one the gunman approached.

TSA conducted the review of nearly 450 airports nationwide after Officer Gerardo Hernandez was killed in the agency's first line of duty death. Two officers and a passenger were wounded. Paul Ciancia, 24, a Pennsville, N.J., native, has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.

Report recommendations include requiring TSA employees, who are unarmed, train for a shooting incident. It specifically discarded the notion of creating an armed unit of TSA officers.

The review found most TSA officers are concerned for their safety and want better security.

TSA Administrator John Pistole has said he doesn't believe more guns at checkpoints are the solution, but the union representing 45,000 TSA officers said the recommendations strengthen their position to arm some officers.

While the report is being presented to Congress there is no specific action they must take.

Airports are run by local operators and because each airport is different, each is responsible for creating its own security plan that must be signed off on by the TSA. The agency has general guidelines that airport plans must meet, and an airport can be fined for violations.

"The current patchwork of local law enforcement agencies across the country inevitably leaves gaps in security, as we saw at LAX," said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "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."

Cox said the report didn't go far enough to address security threats.

The TSA also recommended installing more panic alarms, testing them weekly, and having them linked to security cameras.

The AP reported that although a TSA officer reported hitting a panic button, there was no evidence it happened.

LAX found that some panic buttons weren't working properly and dispatchers couldn't tell where the shooting was happening because the TSA manager who called for help fled from the gunman before she could speak and the phone system didn't identify the location of emergency phones.

With officers out of the terminal, an airline contractor called police dispatch directly on his cellphone, alerting officers nearly a minute and a half after the shooting began.

The report recommends airport security plans state how long it should take police to get to a security checkpoint when there isn't an officer stationed there. The review discovered that 71 airports without officers stationed at checkpoints didn't have a required response time.

It also recommends airports conduct twice yearly active shooter training and exercises and that TSA extend deployment of special teams of air marshals, baggage inspectors and others who conduct random security sweeps.

The review found that though most federal air marshals were notified by phone that there was a shooting at LAX, they didn't receive automatic notification. The TSA has changed protocol to ensure marshals are now notified through the TSA's operations center and local field offices.

Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, released its review last week that found the emergency response was hindered by communication and coordination problems. The 83-page report spotlighted flaws in various airport divisions and systems but didn't single out individuals responsible for problems.

It made no mention of the two armed police officers who were out of position in Terminal 3 or the policy change that had officers roam the airport instead of staffing checkpoints full-time.

LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon has said flexibility is important and that he does not want to revisit stationing officers at checkpoints.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, whose district includes LAX, said the recommendations were a good first step in addressing concerns she voiced after last year's shooting — specifically the lack of armed law enforcement at security checkpoints. Waters has called the airport's emergency response an embarrassment.

A field hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security to discuss the review is scheduled Friday in Los Angeles.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, who is on that committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he had "lingering concerns" about the ability of TSA officers to communicate with emergency responders despite an investment of $13 billion since 9/11 to improve communication between agencies.

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