On November 1, 2013 a TSA officer was shot and killed at point blank range by a rifle at a Los Angeles airport. According to reporters, a motive is still unclear. First, I offer my sincerest condolences to the officer’s family.  Second, I think that we need to learn from this as a LE community to minimize the chance of it happening again.

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?

What if they find that kilo of cocaine in somebodies suitcase that they have been put there to intercept and the bag carrier draws a gun on them? Is the average TSA officer trained to respond? Are they equipped to respond? Which one of those questions is a bigger question is up to you to decide.

The answer to what can happen if a weapon makes it that far through airport security was regretfully learned the hard way on the above mentioned date. Is more security the answer? Is a better armed enforcement team, with more reasonable rules of engagement the answer? Or would the solution be in a balanced combination?  Let’s explore.

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.

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.

In European countries, airport public safety personnel have an image less prone, to attracting anything less than compliance. From the paramilitary training, to the automatic assault rifle strapped over their shoulder, very few would dare engage in foolishness, unless they had a death wish. The no nonsense image probably avoids a lot of conflict.

That, I have a strong belief, that the amount of crime LE unknowingly detours (by presence and image), far exceeds the numbers actually logged on statistic sheets. Additionally, I believe it would be reasonable to propose in retrospect that it is usually the most vulnerable flank that is the most prone to attack.

The Europeans understand this and adapt their training, tactics and image appropriately. In this article I am not targeting the weakness of any individual TSA officer, moreover of the division, and its potential oversight by not arming the officers put in potential line of fire on a daily basis.

The article by Anthony Kimery titled “Thousands of guns artfully concealed weapons found by TSA screeners highlights need for screening procedure,” says (paraphrasing) that between December 28, 2012 and February 21, 2013 two hundred and twenty nine guns were found in carryon luggage and packages in airports throughout the country. According to Anthony’s article sixty four of those guns had rounds in the chamber. I ask, do you still think that TSA officers should be inadequately trained and unarmed? How many quality, well trained and educated people would be willing to put themselves in the shoes of a TSA officer under current conditions?

All members of the public safety team at the airport must realize that they are in a sense border patrol for our international borders. This type of assignment is one that many believe would ideally require the highest of professional standards. That, when the, “you know what,” hits the proverbial fan at the baggage check point, civilians deserve nothing less than a well-trained, intelligent and armed TSA officer. Every officer reading this knows that every officer has at best a fraction of a second to react. I contend that the higher the level of education and training, the probability of the issue having a favorable course increases.

What kind of professional hands would you feel safer putting your safety and life in? An officer who gets minimally trained and has no tools to protect themselves or you? Or, an armed officer that endures constant training, giving them a vast mental and physical arsenal from which to pull in the case of any emergency.

How many TSA screening officers have college degrees? How many of them know how to use a weapon? How many of them are trained enough to recognize when an incident is brewing? How many of them have sufficient KTE to know when a tactical retreat is the only option or inversely when it’s time to go hands on? How many of them train in some form of defensive tactics on a regular basis.

So “more security guards,” unless they are trained, is not the answer. How about a better armed security team, with less constrictive rules of engagement? Arming these officers without any additional training, would be the recipe for disaster. Alleviating some of whatever constrictive rules they may have, would be chaotic unless through intense training it could be verified that there is a uniform system of logic.

So, more untrained security wouldn’t help. Arming untrained security would definitely not help. The answer is indeed somewhere in the middle. That, although TSA officers are trained to follow the protocol of what is allowed on an aircraft, Lt. Treadwell, Officer Baker and I, contend that they aren’t trained well enough to have the poise necessary should they encounter what they have ultimately been posted to deal with, guns and weapons (and any article which may compromise the integrity of the aircraft and its passengers).

Arm and train TSOs on the front line need to be trained and armed, not only with a gun, but with an intellectual arsenal that would allow them to negotiate the desired outcome of the thousands of social transactions, that each officer has per day.

Half of survival in the science of LE is being able to recognize potential deviant or criminal behavior, addressing it and defusing it before it becomes a dangerous issue. Forty percent is having the ability to effectively negotiate the many turns that criminal behavior can take (ie having a gun aimed at you or a punch thrown at you) and the remaining ten percent is having the tools necessary, physical and intellectual (ie guns, education, experience) that will allow you the LEO to respond effectively.

There is a segment of society that believes that events like the one in this article will be used by the government to disarm society. There is another segment that doesn’t want public safety personnel to be too paramilitary at the airport, for fear that that may detour tourism. There is a segment that believes that the experts in LE should be the ones deciding what armament and training is necessary for the safety of society. While another segment, would rather see those decisions in the hands of unqualified civilian socio-corporate entities.

One thing I do know is that whatever segment you belong to, nobody wants a gun to be in the wrong hands.

One thousand guns in the right hands is better than one gun in the wrong hands.

Who should be allowed to carry guns, will possibly forever be an unanswerable philosophical question, because there are always two sides to that argument. However, when the question is asked, who should be allowed to carry, as many guns as necessary, the answer will always be us……… LEOs

Officer Eric Aguiar, LLB has a passion for fairness and seeks to assist personal, professional, and spiritual growth for LEOs. Eric believes that leaders must foster and motivate law enforcement subordinates and co-workers.  Everyone in the profession deserves the opportunity to grow into the role they wish to fulfill. Eric taught legal courses at a North Atlanta technical college for 7 years before starting his law enforcement career. He currently serves as a Georgia Perimeter College police officer, positively influencing students, faculty, and staff.  Eric was recently credentialed in negation by Notre Dame University.  He believes that negotiation skill is an important leadership asset.  His ultimate career goal is to serve as a police chief who focuses on professional growth and team development by cultivating a department culture supporting good morale and uniformity of leadership at all command levels.