Bloomberg News

Airport Police Presence Boosted After TSA Officer Killed

November 02, 2013

Local police will increase their presence at U.S. airports, as Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport reopened and air traffic returned to normal the day after a gunman killed a Transportation Security Administration officer.

Enhanced security at Los Angeles will remain for the foreseeable future, said Patrick Gannon, the airport police chief, who didn’t give details. Passengers should feel safe with the additional resources, Gannon said.

“We’ll keep it going as long as we think it’s necessary,” Gannon said. “We will continue a very high profile.”

Authorities are treating the shootings as an isolated incident. TSA Administrator John Pistole said the agency will review it policy on officer safety following the shootings and do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen again, according to the Associated Press.

“The TSA doesn’t anticipate a change in our security at this time,” said a TSA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “However, passengers may see an increased presence of local law enforcement officers throughout the country.”

Airports and the TSA customarily decline to discuss details of security procedures and personnel use beyond acknowledging visible safeguards such as checkpoints. That was the case again today with the city of Chicago, which runs O’Hare International, the second-busiest U.S. airport.

Officer Killed

O’Hare and Chicago Midway are on “heightened awareness,” said Karen Pride, a city aviation department spokeswoman. A “multilayered approach” to security there includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Chicago police and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, along with federal air marshals, she said.

“These people are staffed at the airport 24 hours a day,” Pride said in a telephone interview.

The shootings, which killed officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, halted flights in and out of the Los Angeles airport, stranding thousands and delaying flights across the U.S. The suspect was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23, of Los Angeles, the FBI said.

Witnesses described havoc when gunfire broke out at 9:20 a.m. local time in Terminal 3, home to JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU:US) and Virgin America Inc. Police traded gunfire with Ciancia, wounding him and taking him into custody, authorities said. Ciancia had more than 100 rounds of ammunition, according to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Societal Problem

George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia, described the Los Angeles incident at a “societal problem rather than a specifically aviation-related problem” that could have happened “at a concertor entering a professional sports game.”

Law enforcement and airport officials can be expected to move quickly to figure out how to prevent similar incidents in the future, analysts said in the aftermath of the shooting.

“The aviation law-enforcement community is a very tight community,” said Jeff Price, an aviation consultant with Leading Edge Strategies in Denver, Colorado. “Everyone is going to start talking.”

“The first thing we have to look at is, did we do everything that could have been done?,” Price said. “There’s a certain level of this you can’t prevent.”

Some approaches, such as arming TSA employees -- as suggested by their union after the shooting -- may not be practical.

“The only way I would be encouraged in arming people is if they were fully trained law enforcement officers,” Price said. “You don’t just hand a screener a gun.”

Creating Targets

Hamlin said creating more layers of security runs “the risk of creating more and more targets. I’m not sure you change procedures at all.”

“The TSA is there to make sure it doesn’t happen on an airplane and as sad as yesterday was, they were successful,” Hamlin said. “How do you set up a system to protect the protectors?”

The incident may indicate a need to improve detection of “the garden-variety unstable individual who can commit violent acts” after years of industry and government focus on terrorist threats, said Richard Bloom, chief academic officer and professor of security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

Most emotionally disturbed people don’t commit violent acts, which makes it harder to identify high-risk individuals, he said.

Secured Area

“As far out as you push a more highly secured area, even all the way to surround the whole airport, the event can always occur just outside that new area,” he said.

Six people were sent to area hospitals, according to James Featherstone, interim Los Angeles fire chief. Officials halted departures from the airport, evacuated terminals and closed freeway exits. The shooter, Ciancia, is hospitalized in critical condition after being shot in the head and leg, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The TSA officer killed was the first to die in the line of duty, according to J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 45,000 agency employees. The agency was formed by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to take over responsibility for aviation security from the airlines.

Limited Authority

TSA officers aren’t armed and can’t make arrests, though they are assaulted almost daily, Cox said at a briefing. The public views them as law enforcement because they wear uniforms and have badges, yet they aren’t trained the same way.

“People will assault the officers and walk away,” Cox said. “Our officers can’t make an arrest.”

The suspect was wearing fatigues and a bag with a note saying he “wanted to kill TSA and pigs,” the AP reported, citing a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Ciancia sent a text message mentioning suicide to a sibling, the AP reported. His father called Pennsville, New Jersey, Police Chief Allen Cummings yesterday saying another of his children had received a text message “in reference to him taking his own life,” the chief told AP.

As many as 746 flights were canceled, delayed or rerouted, according to Gina Marie Lindsey, the airport’s director.

LAX is the fifth-busiest in the U.S. by domestic passengers. The biggest carriers are United Continental Holdings Inc.’s United Airlines, AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co. and Delta Air Lines Inc.

For United, American and Delta, it’s a base for U.S. flights as well as a gateway for trans-Pacific routes. Many airlines issued waivers for Los Angeles passengers to rebook without penalty.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Bjerga in Washington at abjerga@bloomberg.net. Tim Catts in New York at tcatts1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:


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