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Should LAX shooting spark security changes at airports?

Travelers are screened by Transportation Security Administration agents after Terminal 3 was re-opened a day after a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport November 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Travelers are screened by Transportation Security Administration agents after Terminal 3 was re-opened a day after a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport November 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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The shooting at LAX on Friday has renewed questions on airport saftey. Over the weekend, the union representing TSA workers--the American Federation of Government Employees--called for screeners to have the power of arrest and wanted to see armed security guards at every airport checkpoint.

Others have suggested that some TSA workers should be able to carry guns themselves. Should there be armed guards at every checkpoint? Should TSA workers be armed? The debate underpins the larger question of just how safe can we make our airports.

Interview Highlights:

David Borer, General Counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees

What would your union like to see in regard to changes in airport security?
"We're calling for a thorough review of law enforcement support for our officers in airports. We have 45,000 TSOs and related personnel in the airports who are not law enforcement officers. Who rely on local law enforcement. We want to review that now in light of what happened on Friday and in light of the current state of things in airports around the country."

Do you think it makes sense to arm some TSA officers at checkpoints?
"I think yes, part of what should be considered now is should there be created a layer of law enforcement officers within TSA to handle the security at the checkpoint? As we heard from the LAPD (sic) chief, his officers were recently removed from the checkpoint area and stationed out to maneuver around in the terminals, but not stay there at the checkpoint. We want to look at that. Is that the best way or should there still be a presence at the checkpoint? We think if there's a presence at the checkpoint it certainly makes sense that it be a TSA officer who is trained as a law enforcement officer."

Marshall McClain, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association

Do you have concerns if TSA was to have selected officers who were trained and armed at checkpoints?
"I would like a better response in terms of how TSA and administrator Pistole is going to respond because we brought some of these very concerns to him because it is a bigger issue than LAX, myself along with Paul Nunziato from New Jersey Port Authority talked about having a more robust screening station and having some fortifications put in place and making some mandates across the board on a federal level and his response was more about budget concerns as to do that. 

"Even as we speak now they're nationally looking at taking all the TSOs off of the exit screening lanes to put local law enforcement there or local security there. So there's been some discussions that have happened more on the hill or DC that don't really include local law enforcement. I mean even the decisions earlier to try to put knives back on planes. That had to be a national outcry, but administrator Pistole was insistent on doing that."

If there are select TSA officers that are armed, what is the potential conflict with officers from airport police?
"Whether its local airport police, whether its county municipalities, whoever's there, there are the trained officers, they're actually trained to do the job, they're experts at the job. So to now create a level within TSA of armed to do what police officers are already trained to do, I think that's just a bad idea, to try to train up 30,000 people under that system? That's not what they were hired to do, that's not what TSA was created to do."

What about the shift in policy to have airport police moving around the airport not in fixed locations?
"Some of the things we raised up with administrator Pistole were those very things: fortifying the stations having the officers on a raised platform, putting more biometrics in place, putting monitors in place for live fees to the officers could see those things. We're a proponent of having both in place. Having the roving patrols, which actually work, they were 60 seconds behind the suspect and took him down. But because it is a fixed post, it is a security screening system, you need to have an armed response to have to deal with that threat."

Has there been any cutback in airport police?
"The airport police is not paid out of city or state or federal taxes. We're completely proprietary, we're actually paid out of landing fees. The letter in response from administrator Pistole actually says this, 'As budgets for all federal, state and local agencies become tighter, adopting a standard the removes flexibility may prove counterproductive to overall security postures at large airports.' So the comment that professor King talked about in saying inadequate security at LaGuardia was exactly why we went to talk to TSA to make it mandatory standard of a 300-foot rule around the actual screening stations. 

"This is a money issue. Even the fact that they're talking about removing the TSOs from the exit lanes to save $800 million for TSA. That's what they're talking about, so we're talking about budgetary issues as to why people are moving things around. We do want to have the officers the flexibility to not be sitting in a chair all day long for 10 hour or 12 hour shifts, and really it's a target there with a wooden post in front of them. But there are some talks that need to happen and putting aside the ideas of the money issue because those money issues and savings to TSA, have actually be utilized elsewhere in areas that are outside of the screening station."

Joseph King, Ph.D., Associate Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York:

Do you think changes are called for at LAX?
"Airport security is very difficult if you want to maintain an open society. Where do you put the security? Do you begin at curbside where you can't even come into the building unless you're screened? Do you begin it at checkin counters? Or as TSA does, do you put it at a choke point along the way. Most airports in the United States have adapted that method and the local police, whether they be city police or the port authority in New York or LAXPD, they have a limited force and they have limited budgets, which always enter into these things. 

"When you look at the airport itself, you're talking about how many locations? Kennedy Airport is 8-10 terminals. All of them have multiple exits and multiple entrances. How can you secure that? What about curbside? If you look at the Moscow bombing at the airport, it was someone coming into the baggage area and blowing up an unsecured baggage area. If you look at other shootings around the world, its the attack that takes the least point of resistance. 

"I think that for the protection of these federal employees, that the federal government has to take some unilateral action to secure not just LAX or JFK or LaGuardia, but to secure all the airports around the United States where their officers are stationed. I think that in the long run the most logical solution is to have a select cadre of TSA officers, whether they are going to be called screeners or whether they're going to change them to homeland security police officers, which are already in existence, and train them in the use of firearms and the use of combat situations."

Is it even possible to secure every entry and exit at an airport?
"In the United States with the level of freedom we have you cannot secure it, and we don't have the siege mentality that the Israelis have. If you secured every checkpoint at the airport, what's to stop them from driving up with a car bomb? If you secure the airports to that extent that they'll go for a softer target, you'll have the same thing you had in Kenya at the mall. You can't secure everything. At least we can't."


David Borer, General Counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA screeners.

Marshall McClain, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association

Joseph King, Ph.D., Associate Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York; Served 33 years as Supervisory Special Agent in Charge of the Terrorist & Middle East Division, US Customs in New York; Former Chief, National Security Section, Department of Homeland Security in New York; Dr. King is also a survivor of, and was a rescue worker at the 9-11 event at the World Trade Center.