WASHINGTON — The union representing airport screeners for the Transportation Security Administration says Friday’s fatal shooting of an agent at Los Angeles International Airport highlights the need for armed security officers at every airport checkpoint.
“Every local airport has its own security arrangement with local police to some type of contract security force,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the screeners. “There is no standardization throughout the country. Every airport operates differently. Obviously at L.A. there were a fair number of local police officers there.”
TSA behavior-detection officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, was killed in Friday’s shooting, and two other agents were wounded.
Law enforcement officers at LAX shot and wounded the alleged shooter, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia, in Terminal 3, preventing what could have been a much larger tragedy.
TSA officials said Saturday that they don’t anticipate a change in the agency security posture at the moment, but “passengers may see an increased presence of local law enforcement officers throughout the country.”
Every commercial airport is required to have an airport security program that is approved by the TSA. But the agency said it is up to each airport authority and their local law enforcement partners to ensure the plan is implemented.
The screeners, who earn up to $30,000 annually, have not requested to carry guns themselves, but they do want an armed security officer present at every checkpoint, Cox said.
Congress may investigate the issue, but the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee issued a statement Saturday saying that the immediate issue should be comforting the family of the TSA agent who died in Friday’s shooting.
“As with any incident of this nature, there will be an appropriate time — after all the facts have been gathered and thoughtfully analyzed —to review existing policy and procedure to see what, if anything, can be learned from this unfortunate incident to help prevent future tragedies,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who chairs the Homeland Security Committee.
TSA screeners often face physical and verbal attacks, but “there has never been anything life-threatening before,” Cox said.
Typically passengers will get angry with an airport screener if a bell goes off and the agent asks the passenger to pass through security a second time or if an agent confiscates a prohibited item.
“There used to be an armed police officer at each security checkpoint at all times,” Cox said.