LOS ANGELES – The way to decrease Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoint wait times is to put more screeners at the checkpoints and open and man all checkpoints, particularly at peak hours. TSA has the money, but it is diluting its mission by doing things outside of screening passengers and luggage that are ineffective and counterproductive to promoting a safe and efficient airport environment and experience. Some “experts” with bullhorns are blasting out recommendations on policies that will have counter effects to reducing wait times.
One blatant example includes the recent claim by New York Senator Charles Schumer that TSA passenger canines can speed screening without endangering security. This idea is short sighted and without merit. As the police officers, including many canine handlers, that patrol some of the country’s busiest airports, Airport Police officers have seen firsthand the limitations of TSA dogs.
When a TSA vapor wake dog alerts to an individual with explosive material, the TSA does not isolate and evacuate the area—it simply allows the subject of the dog’s alert to continue through the screening checkpoint and conducts a secondary screening of the individual. Given that the TSA screening area is a highly congested choke-point, allowing a person who is suspected of having explosive material on their body and/or luggage to continue through the screening area jeopardizes the safety of surrounding passengers and further clogs the screening area. Also, secondary screening of individuals creates delays and extends passenger wait times at the checkpoint and involve more TSA manpower, taking even more TSA agent resources.
Furthermore, TSA is not a law enforcement agency. Its canine bomb detection handlers have no authority to mitigate a threat. If a TSA handler identifies a danger, they must call for airport police to take action.
Canine teams should be handled by local law enforcement, who have the underlying police training to immediately identify the level of a threat and respond accordingly—by isolating the suspect—and have the capability to mitigate the problem before it reaches a sterile area and/or plane.
In this regard, the American Alliance of Airport Police Officers recommends TSA reassign its non-screening employees—such as TSA vapor wake dog handlers, Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) agents, which have all proven to be costly and ineffective programs—to concentrate on TSA’s primary function of screening passengers and baggage. TSA should deploy its existing personnel and resources towards streamlining and shortening the waiting time at its checkpoints, as having crowded lines full of passengers creates not only discourse among travelers, but a target rich environment for those seeking to do harm. AAAPO also suggests fortifying security at checkpoints by having an airport police officer stationed within 300 feet of the screening area, which allows for the officer to take immediate action should an incident occur at the checkpoint.
“As an airport canine officer, when my dog hits on explosive material, I am able to take immediate action to defuse a situation that has the potential to be deadly,” said Frank Conti, First Vice President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association. “Whether this involves detaining, arresting, or in the worst case scenario, shooting a suspect posing an imminent threat to passengers, as a trained airport law enforcement officer, I have the necessary tools in my arsenal to help mitigate these types of threats and keep the traveling public safe. TSA does not. It has an important job in screening passengers, but effectively using canines is not their thing.”
“As TSA screening locations are unmanned with tumbleweeds passing through them, TSA is putting on a literal ‘dog and pony’ show by using vapor wake dogs to scan wait lines that are so long the lines themselves are becoming a safety issue with legitimately agitated travelers,” explained Marshall McClain, a canine officer at LAX, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association and a co-founder of AAAPO. “TSA doesn’t need more dogs, they need more screeners—if more dogs are needed, enhance local law enforcement’s dogs so when there is a threat, we can take care of it without holding up screening by taking away a TSA agent.”
“I believe the billion dollar plus vapor wake dogs and BDO programs are remnants from the former TSA Administrator Pistole era,” said Paul Nunziato, President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association and co-founder of the AAAPO. “Pistole told me and Marshall personally that Congress had given him so much money that he needed to find ways to spend it. Unlike his predecessor, Administrator Neffenger appears to be committed to a tighter agency that is going back to its core focus of screening passengers and luggage which will actually improve security. The jury’s still out, but we are hopeful this Administrator is not intent on building a fiefdom, and moves away from failed and distracting programs like BDO, VIPR and vapor wake dogs that have led to an already weak screening process, now with not enough screeners.”