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Union renews call for arming TSA officers after LAX shooting

The union representing 45,000 Transportation Security Administration officers repeated its calls to arm officers Wednesday, saying the agency's actions after November's deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport "does not go far enough."

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said although he "appreciates" the TSA's recommendation to put more police officers at its airport checkpoints, an armed, uniformed TSA unit was needed "to provide the best possibly security." 

"The current patchwork of local law enforcement agencies across the country inevitably leaves gaps in security, as we saw at LAX," Cox said in a statement.

"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," Cox said.

The union first proposed arming TSA officers just days after Nov. 1, when a gunman opened fire at LAX's Terminal 3, killing one TSA officer and wounding two others and a teacher. Gerardo I. Hernandez, a 39-year-old father of two, became the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty.

Paul Anthony Ciancia, now 24, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 11 charges -- including murder and attempted murder -- in the attack.

He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has yet to decide whether he will seek the death penalty.

The TSA released its assessment of the incident Wednesday, listing 14 recommendations that will be implemented at airports nationwide. It called for an increased police presence at TSA checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours, as well as improved employee training and emergency response technology.

But it did not authorize arming TSA officers. Doing so, the report said, would raise "jurisdictional and cost issues."

"The administrator does not believe that adding more guns to the checkpoint by arming TSAs is the solution," the report said.

In an interview with The Times, TSA Administrator John Pistole pointed to a "number of reasons" why: concerns over tactics, arrest authority and how officers' other responsibilities might change.

“The vast, vast majority don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

Jeff Price, an aviation security expert who teaches at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said allowing TSA officers to carry guns would be redundant when police were already in the airport.

"If you need an armed presence at the checkpoints and the ticket counters, put a police officer," he said. "You already have police. Just get more police."

Pistole, Cox and LAX officials are scheduled to testify on the report and other matters related to the Nov. 1 shooting Friday afternoon at a congressional hearing at the airport.

The TSA assessment comes a week after the airport's own after-action report, which identified poor communication and coordination among agencies as key failures that contributed to a chaotic evacuation and delays reaching victims.

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Twitter: @katemather | Google+
kate.mather@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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