Putting Their Life On The Line (for minimum wage)

At Law Enforcement Today, Eric Aguiar makes an eminently reasonable, and very scary, proposal:  Arm and properly train TSA officers.  For now, they’re the joke of law enforcement, recruited from pizza boxes, given enough training to be unaware that a driver’s license from the District of Columbia is ‘merican, and paid worse than the gal at the Dairy Queen counter.

And they are on the front line of Terrorist Theater.

Even so, they are out in public, wearing uniforms, giving orders, molesting children, taking a risk.

On November 1, 2013 a TSA officer was shot and killed at point blank range by a rifle at a Los Angeles airport.

If we had to venture and propose a reason as to why TSA was targeted we would surmise that, tactically, it is because they are the only unarmed law enforcement division at the airport and arguably the least trained. Does it make sense to give an unarmed officer an assignment as sensitive as checking for weapons and contraband?

Well no, it doesn’t.  But then, they aren’t there to play junior DEA agent, even though every jerk with a shield dreams of being a hero.  But I digress.

Years ago, long before 9/11 was a twinkle in Dick Cheney’s eye, I represented a woman who worked as airport security. Back then, there was a concern about skyjacking, mostly related to Cuba, and there was security to make sure people didn’t bring bombs on board. This generally involved asking people if they had bombs, because why would a skyjacker lie?

I asked her what she would do if she actually came across a bomb. She told me she would turn around and run like hell.  No way she was paid enough to get killed. I liked her.

Retired MARTA (Metro Atlanta Transit Authority) Lieutenant R. Treadwell, with an extensive military background, believes that there are two main points of concern regarding the TSA. The first is that he believes that airport security public safety personnel “are not paid enough and second that they don’t receive enough training.” Lt. Treadwell continues by adding………

“In GA a large amount of TSA personnel don’t make much more than minimum wage and that is alarming. Additionally most TSA personnel receive minimal tactical training.” In Hawaii for example TSA TSO training is three weeks. TSO’s are the ones on the front line checking bags, with no way to respond if they find one.

Whenever a multifaceted solution is offered, be frightened.  If we assume that there is any purpose to the TSA at all, and its continued existence is warranted to serve some function that justifies its existence, then Treadwell’s point is well taken. They need to be trained like real people with shields (and the power that goes with them) and better paid.  But training and better pay is amorphous and expensive.  SWAT teams are well trained, just not in the ways of avoiding needless damage to innocent people.

But this begs the problem introduced by the TSA agent shot in Los Angeles, and you know that this is the raison d’être for the proposal:

Officer I. Baker, a police officer with GPC public safety department, has several years of military experience both in the British and American systems. He believes, like I do that the fact that law enforcement is “out gunned and out manned” is the biggest problem. “The bad guys don’t have rules as far as what weapons they are allowed to carry. Why does LE? Why wouldn’t the people want the good guys, LE, to have as many guns as necessary, both for functionality and to have a maximal image of criminal deterrence? After all it was never supposed to be a fair fight. LE should always have the upper hand by far.

That’s right: arm the TSA.  Put guns in their hands. “After all it was never supposed to be a fair fight.”  What could possibly go wrong?  Pretty much the same thing that goes wrong whenever armaments are put into the hands of people who think they are engaged in a fight, fair or otherwise.

The TSA deals with millions of people daily, the overwhelming majority of which have neither weapon nor contraband, and simply prefer they keep their hands off their genitalia. Some TSA workers are miffed at the lack of respect for their hard work touching children, another trait they share with Dairy Queen employees, and get more than a bit vindictive about the attitude.  If they had weapons, there might be a tendency to use them.

The problem with proposals like Aguiar’s, aside from his normative arguments, blind trust and irrational focus on the great benefits of overwhelming law enforcement might, is that there is little chance that the trio of ideas, training, better pay and arming, will all make the cut. But there is an outside chance that one idea will win friends.

This would be the worst of all possible worlds, an armed, poorly trained, low-paid and vindictive group of second-rate cop wannabes.  If you think the TSA sucks now, imagine the same agents with guns and the putative authority to stick their fingers into your children’s clothing.  Yet, you can bet that someone will think this is a great idea.

H/T Mike Paar

14 comments on “Putting Their Life On The Line (for minimum wage)

  1. Wheeze the People™

    Without the data to back up this claim, I will still make it: More TSA agents have been killed driving to/from the airport than while on duty. So instead of buying them big ol’ guns, why not just buy them all big ol’ safe cars?? Maybe hand-me-down out-of-service police Crown Victoria’s, perhaps?? We’ll save a lot more TSA agents that way, I assure you . . . Stamp it!!

    1. Jake DiMare

      Or how about we give them better healthcare? And monitor what they eat? I do quite a bit of flying in my line of work and based on my completely unscientific analysis of the situation there are many more TSA agents being killed with the fork and knife then by ‘the terrorists’.

      1. SHG Post author

        That’s just mean. You are mean flyer. Expect to be in the slow line next time. Whatever line you pick will be the slow line, you meanie.

  2. John Barleycorn

    You failed to point out the outstanding medical benefits and early vesting retirement plan.

    You better get your act together if your want to be a judge in your old age esteemed one.

  3. LTMG

    What would happen if TSA “agents” became TSA “service attendants” attired in coat and tie? Would the lack of a badge and para-military uniform change the self image of the personnel and the projection of that self image onto the traveling public?

    If TSA personnel must wear some sort of para-military uniform, what training do UK unarmed police get that would be useful to TSA personnel? In particular, the training that enables UK unarmed police to command the respect of the public without having to resort nearly as frequently to firearms, batons, and severe beatings.

    1. SHG Post author

      Both good questions. I particularly like the idea of changing TSA from uniforms to suits. I think there’s an attitude shift that goes with the clothing.

  4. MX

    Suppose the TSA agents were all armed. Surely a gunman intent on attacking an airport would instead direct his attention to the ticket counter lines, or perhaps the rental car center, taxi queue, airport train station, or any number of other areas. Or should all airport employees be armed?

    Fundamentally, where Aguiar misses the point is that he thinks that the TSA is a law enforcement agency. It is not. Rather, TSA is a security organization, tasked with enforcing certain rules (however horribly defined those rules may be and however terribly it go about enforcing them) for entry to a secured area. If a TSA employee sees the law being violated, local police, who are inevitably already present at the airport, can easily be summoned to the checkpoint. This works in virtually every situation except where a madman is shooting up the airport, a decidedly uncommon occurrence.

    If TSA agents were armed, I suspect the main effect would be the regular shutdowns of airport terminals for security sweeps after an agent managed to lose his weapon.

  5. LTMG

    Let me try to list the different kinds of armed law enforcement officers already present at airports. Municipal or airport police, deputy sheriffs, state police, DEA, ICE agents, Dept of Agriculture, BATFE, FBI, US Marshals (air marshals), possibly Border Patrol, possibly Postal Inspectors, possibly Secret Service, and probably others I’ve overlooked. Given all of these armed law enforcement officers already present at airports, do we really need armed TSA agents too?

  6. DaveL

    People are often surprised to learn that, according to OSHA statistics on fatalities per million man-hours worked, police work isn’t even in the top ten most dangerous occupations. It actually ranks just between landscaping supervisors and maintenance workers.

    So where do the TSA rank? They’re on par with librarians.

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