NEW YORK – The American Alliance of Airport Police Officers (AAAPO) is relieved that the events that unfolded at JFK Airport on Sunday, August 14th appear to be no more than a false alarm; however, they highlight, once again, that airports continue to be vulnerable to attack. Terrorists and those seeking to cause maximum damage and harm have repeatedly proven this, and the AAAPO reiterates its calls for reasonable measures to be taken in order to protect the traveling public.
This incident immediately brought to mind the airport attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, reminding us that terrorist attacks can take place here in the United States.
In the confusion of the incident at JFK, and as travelers scrambled throughout the airport, rank-and-file officers only had access to two live security cameras at Terminal 8 and neither of them are located in the areas that needed to be searched. In fact, most airports do not have a unified, live camera system accessible by airport police, but instead have a fractured camera system in which tenants, vendors, TSA and others can deny access to law enforcement. In instances like the one this past Sunday, surveillance cameras can be key to identifying the source of confusion, or possible suspects and accomplices.
AAAPO has called on TSA to require any entity with a closed circuit camera system at an airport to provide real-time access to airport police. This would allow police officers to have eyes in all locations across the airport, and would be an essential part in keeping those we have sworn to protect safe.
Furthermore, during the JFK incident, passengers rushed through security clearance unchecked, as TSA was overwhelmed and no airport police were specifically assigned near the screening area. It is not unimaginable that someone could have initiated a false alarm (or two this day) to determine what type of security exists at the TSA screening area and/or someone with ill intent could have rushed past the TSA screening checkpoint during the chaos of this incident in order to gain direct access to the sterile side of the airport, and to awaiting planes, which could have serious consequences.
Our airports need an armed law enforcement officer stationed near the TSA screening area. In this regard, the AAAPO has advocated for the passage of HR 5720, which calls for an armed law enforcement officer to be located within 300 feet of the TSA security checkpoint. Having an armed officer near the screening area will serve as a strong deterrent, help prevent anyone from breaching the checkpoint and will help to mitigate any law enforcement situation that may arise, ultimately protecting TSA, travelers and our airports.
“We’ve seen the scenario played time and time again—terrorists and gunmen targeting airports. It happened here at LAX in November 2013. People were injured and the shooter got far enough to access a plane because we did not have an officer at screening and did not have eyes on the shooter as he passed through the ENTIRE terminal,” said Marshall McClain, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, and co-founder of the AAAPO. “Thank God, the JFK incident was not an actual active shooter situation, but there is no doubt in my mind that if it were, having an armed officer within 300 feet of the screening checkpoint and camera access would have been an effective means to thwart the attack.”
“Firstly, I want to commend the response and actions the officers took on Sunday when we received the initial reports of shots fired in Terminal 8 at JFK. The officers performed in text book fashion as they are trained to do and also prevented the situation from escalating,” said Paul Nunziato, President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, and co-founder of the AAAPO. “While this threat was apparently not real, it again reinforces that an armed officer must be stationed near the screening area, and that officers must have real-time feeds of all airport cameras, in order to help better protect travelers and secure our airports.”