WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration is proposing that armed law-enforcement officers help guard airport checkpoints during busy times, in reaction to the November shooting of a TSA officer in Los Angeles.
TSA Administrator John Pistole said the proposal followed a comprehensive review, after a gunman killed TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez and wounded three others at Los Angeles International Airport.
A 26-page report released Wednesday made 14 recommendations, including having a police presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak travel times.
Other recommendations include more training for dealing with gunmen and improving emergency communications in airports.
TSA checkpoint officers aren't armed and they call for local police to handle criminal matters, such as a traveler carrying a gun. Armed police often patrol airports.
TSA does have 37 VIPR teams, which stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, which are heavily armed. While 70% of the teams had patrolled surface transportation, such as train stations, before the shooting, half the teams now patrol airports.
"We have already taken action on some recommendations," Pistole told TSA workers Wednesday in a note obtained by USA TODAY. "Based on input from employees and key industry stakeholders, we have been focused on mandatory training, improved communication systems and policies, and enhanced law enforcement presence."
Police Chief Yousry "Yost" Zakhary of Woodway, Texas, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, participated in meetings developing the report and commended its recommendations for joint training and better communication between agencies.
But he said assigning police to airports will depend on local priorities and funding. About 323 airports receive federal reimbursement for police officers at airports.
"I think in a perfect world if we had all the money and resources that would be great, but unfortunately these are going to have to be done on a calculated risk based on peak times and funding that is available," Zakhary said.
"I don't think there's an agency that can afford to put police at every checkpoint," he added. "You might see roving patrols."
Kevin Burke, CEO of Airports Council International-North America, called the recommendations common sense and commended Pistole's collaborative work "to mitigate active shooter situations."
In the Los Angeles shooting Nov. 1, it took several minutes for police to respond and even longer for Hernandez to receive medical care. Police and security officers sometimes use different radio systems in airports, and the Los Angeles shooting was reported by cellphone.
Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, commended Pistole for his extensive outreach to make airline travel safer and more secure.
"However, I have lingering concerns about the ability of TSA personnel to communicate with first responders during emergencies," Thompson said.
A committee hearing is scheduled Friday at the Los Angeles airport.
The union representing TSA workers, the Association of Federal Government Employees, proposed in March creating a new type of TSA officer who is armed. AFGE President David Cox said the report confirmed the need for them, and that the union looks forward to finding a way to staff them.
"Today's report justifies our call for armed law enforcement officers at security checkpoints," Cox said.
The alleged gunman, Paul Ciancia, was indicted on 11 charges and has pleaded not guilty.