Should Airport Police Report to TSA?

police-officer-111117_1280Although the article states that airport police are a “patchwork” that doesn’t report to the TSA, lets remember a few things. TSA does not report to the Department of Justice and although the air marshals and a few other TSA employees do have police powers they are inherently a security agency not a law enforcement agency. It would cost billions to certify hundreds of agents to become armed and to maintain such a program. Plus, there’s no evidence that “reporting to the TSA” will improve law enforcement response or deterrence to a threat.

There was talk after 9/11 of creating a national police force to patrol airports, but then someone realized that local police already patrol airports, and are by regulation, required to. Why create another massive government agency or grow a bureaucracy even larger than it already is?

I’m reminded of a legal concept that’s popular here in Colorado in the ski industry. Many ski resorts are granted some legal protections because when a person buys a lift ticket, they agree that there are “risks inherent in skiing,” that the are accepting. So, when they fall down and break their leg, they have a lesser chance of winning a lawsuit against the ski area because they knew the risks and elected to ski anyway.

As a former security officer myself (unarmed and unsworn), I understood that there were certain risks to my job. While my instructions were to not engage a violent person, security officers routinely deal with suspicious persons, which includes criminals, and the mentally disturbed. There is an inherent risk in security work.

Also, I personally know that in a close engagement, such as at a checkpoint, I’m not likely going to have time to step back, draw my weapon and accurately fire while ducking and dodging a maniac swinging a machete, or a gunman firing an automatic weapon. Every cop knows the Tueller Drill (it’s on YouTube, look it up), where a man with a knife can cover a distance of 20-feet before an officer can recognize the threat and engage with a firearm. One will likely have to engage in other defensive tactics to avoid a knife, machete or bullets, like taking cover before returning fire, or taking offensive action.

I’ll also note that police officers are typically more experienced in handling a situation that quickly goes bad. When a cop gets called out they are expecting the unexpected and operate with a higher level of proficiency. TSA personnel largely work with normal folks who are not going to attack them on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. There is a skill to recognizing a threat, and engaging that threat, that unless frequently practiced, gets rusty with time. Having a gun can be a liability in a close-in fight unless you’re well trained and practiced at weapon retention and implementation.

That said, TSA officers do engage in a high level of public contact, similar to Customs agents. So, maybe additional police at the checkpoint is warranted, and I’m always for self-defense training (for everyone in fact), but security officers in particular.

Inaccuracy: The article cites 480 airports. There are only 450 commercial service airports in the U.S.


4 Responses to Should Airport Police Report to TSA?

  1. Well said, Jeff. I would add that If the Union representing TSA screeners really wanted to help with this issue they would be lobbying on behalf of airports for additional federal dollars for LEOs at the checkpoints, rather than arguing to arm their own members. That topic will be addressed in DC this Fall, and airport authorities need support for their efforts to not only continue but to broaden the TSA’s funding of airport law enforcement presence at the checkpoints.

    • I agree Tim. I’m all for additional funds to support local law enforcement as I know it’s been a contentious issue for a long time. It’s about the job – I want my screener to be focused on ensuring people aren’t bringing guns and bombs on planes, not worried about the gunfight at the OK Corral. I’m all for the 2nd amendment and exercise my rights there as well, but there are better solutions to this problem rather than arming all TSA.

      • Exactly. There is absolutely no need to arm screeners. Airport operators are quite capable of providing law enforcement in numbers to secure the airport and support the Airport Security Program. TSA serves a dual function related to the screening of passengers and their belongings to include regulatory oversight of air carriers and airports. TSA faces enough challenges in their areas of screening and regulatory authority without taking on additional responsibilities. Leave the law enforcement component to the expertise of the airport operator. If TSA believes there is a need to strengthen arming the checkpoint, then come up with the funding for the airport operator to allocate additional resources.

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