The president of the union representing more than 45,000 Transportation Security Administration agents urged Congress and the agency on Monday to create a new class of officers that would be armed with weapons.
J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 45,000 Transportation Security Administration agents, said that the “sad truth is that our TSA officers are subject to daily verbal assaults and far too frequent physical attacks while performing their security duties.”
“At this time, we feel a larger and more consistent armed presence in screening areas would be a positive step in improving security for both TSOs and the flying public,” Cox said in a statement. “The development of a new class of TSA officers with law enforcement status would be a logical approach to accomplishing this goal.”
The statement comes in the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at LAX that left one TSA agent killed and two others injured. The suspect in the shooting, 23-year-old Paul Ciancia, was targeting federal security officers, authorities said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Monday that the investigation into the shooting will also look at security at LAX -- and other airports.
“The function of TSA is to ensure that people can board planes safely and take flights safely,” Holder said. “The responsibility for protecting airport security is not a TSA function, but something I think we need to certainly examine.”
At a news conference over the weekend, TSA Administrator John Pistole said his agency’s review will include the question of whether its agents should be armed (they are not presently). “We will look at what our policies and procedures are and what provides the best possible security,” he said.
The idea of arming TSA agents has been raised before, according to aviation security consultant Stewart Verdery, a former Department of Homeland Security official who was involved with the creation of the airport screening agency.
“It’s always been raised as an issue,” Verdery said. “We know that there are people that don’t like the government, and TSA is a whipping boy for people angry about the overreach of the government. And we also know that terrorists are fascinated with aviation. It puts them on the front lines.”
He said the decision not to arm airport security agents was made because protecting the airport is not their primary mission.
“You want to spend your time training TSA officers to look for dangerous weapons and dangerous people,” he said. “Arming tens of thousands of agents who are largely dealing with average travelers is not necessary.”
He noted that arming the agents would come at a high cost. The average annual cost of a TSA agent is less than half the cost of an armed law enforcement officer, he said.