Crime & Justice

LAX shooting: TSA wants law enforcement at checkpoints (Updated)

This file photo shows TSA officers checking carry-on luggage.
This file photo shows TSA officers checking carry-on luggage.

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The Transportation Security Administration recommended Wednesday that airports post armed law enforcement officers at security checkpoints and ticket counters during peak hours.

The recommendation was one of 14 determined after a nationwide review of security at airports prompted by a shooting at Los Angeles International Airport last fall.

The Transportation Security Administration conducted its own review of security at nearly 450 airports nationwide after the Nov. 1 shooting at LAX killed TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez — the agency's first death in the line of duty.

"Following the incident at LAX last year, which shocked and saddened us all, I ordered a comprehensive review of policies and procedures at LAX and airports across the country," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said in a statement. "The report released today outlines the actions TSA took immediately following the shooting and new procedures to enhance the safety and security of TSA employees nationwide, especially those who work on the frontlines each and every day to protect the traveling public."

TSA officials called for more law enforcement at high-traffic locations within the airport during peak times, including at checkpoints and ticket counters.

In 2002, a man walked up to the El Al ticket counter at LAX with two handguns and fired on passengers waiting in line. Two people were killed and four others injured in the shooting before an armed El Al airline security guard killed him.

“The recommended standards are intended to provide visible deterrence and quicker incident response time and apply to those airports not currently utilizing a fixed post plan,” according to the TSA report.

LAX is one of those airports that do not have a police officer posted at fixed checkpoints. L.A. airport police chief Patrick Gannon said he has reviewed the TSA’s report and agreed with the recommendations made. He said he was not surprised by the recommendation to require increased law enforcement presence at checkpoints and ticketing counters. 

"They allow us to be flexible in our approach and that during peak travel times that we’ll have law enforcement officers near security checkpoints and ticketing centers,” Gannon said. "That’s what we try to do already.” 

Gannon said he believed he had enough officers to meet the TSA recommendations, but confirmed there are 20 vacancies on the force.

The TSA report also recommends that the airport conduct active shooting training at least twice a year. 

L.A. airport police conducted an active shooter training drill about three weeks before the Nov. 1 shooting, but Gannon said the department needs to work with the TSA and federal law enforcement such as ICE at the airport to train with them. That was not done before, but he said efforts have begun.

“We need to teach that kind of training to some of our federal law enforcement partners at the airport who haven’t had that training,” Gannon said. “So [everyone has] a clear understanding of the tactics that are used,  how they can help and support that particular effort — in the event that an active shooter would come.” 

Gannon removed officers from podiums at checkpoints in the past year before the shooting, saying having roving or patrolling officers within terminals would give them more flexibility to respond to incidents.

When LAX airport and city officials released their report on lessons learned from the shooting, Gannon said he would not go back to assigning officers to fixed posts or checkpoints. 

The president of the union that represents L.A. airport police officers agreed with the recommendation to assign armed officers to fixed checkpoints.

“The key component of police and security is something that has not been prioritized at [Los Angeles World Airports] whether it be about the 911 system or about attrition and staffing,” said Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association.

But McClain said he didn’t think the TSA’s recommendation of having armed officers stationed at airline ticket counters was the best use of police resources.

“You’re talking over 80 different airlines at LAX,” he said. “I don’t’ even think that there’s a defined threat that would be necessary for every airline to have that at every ticket counter.”  

The AP has reported that the two armed officers at the LAX terminal had left for breaks and were out of the terminal. Airport police decided months earlier to have officers roam terminals instead of staffing checkpoints such as the one approached by a gunman.

Paul Ciancia opened fire with an assault rifle in an attack targeting the TSA, authorities said. Two officers and a passenger were wounded. The Pennsville, N.J.-native has pleaded not guilty to 11 federal charges, including murder of a federal officer.

Dozens of groups including law enforcement, airline and airport operators have met multiple times since the Nov. 1 shooting to discuss suggestions to improve airport security.

Recommendations from the 25-page report, which you can read in full below, include requiring TSA employees go through active shooter training and participate in related training exercises. The TSA also recommends acquiring panic alarms for areas for areas were gaps have been identified.

The Associated Press has reported that though TSA officers told airport officials that an officer hit the panic button, there was no evidence it happened. An airport-wide audit of red phones and panic buttons found some of those devices weren't working properly, including in Terminal 3.

A TSA supervisor picked up an emergency phone but fled the gunman. The airport police dispatcher only heard shouts and gunshots because the phone system didn't provide a location.

Because officers weren't in the terminal, an airline contractor called police dispatch directly on his cellphone, alerting officers nearly a minute and a half after the shooting began.

Other recommendations include:

Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, released its review last week that found the airport's emergency response was hindered by communication and coordination problems. The 83-page report spotlighted flaws in various airport divisions and systems that were in place, but didn't single out individuals responsible for problems.

It also made no mention of the two armed officers who were out of position without notifying dispatchers as required or the policy change to roaming patrols months earlier.

Document: Read the full TSA report

This story has been updated.