LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday his agency has officially rejected arming officers in response to a November attack at Los Angeles International Airport.
John Pistole made the comments after a news conference to announce the opening of a “pre-check” application site for expedited screening at LAX.
TSA union officials have called for creating armed officers from the agency to ensure safety at screening checkpoints. But Pistole said virtually every issue is on the table except for arming officers. Introducing more guns is not the solution, he said.
J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees representing 45,000 TSA employees, expressed disappointment Thursday, calling Pistole’s statement premature given ongoing investigations.
The agency is conducting a review of the shooting that left one officer dead. Authorities say Paul Ciancia opened fire with an assault rifle in an attack targeting the TSA that also wounded two officers and a passenger.
The TSA review is separate from an ongoing investigation into the shooting.
Pistole said the agency’s review will focus on changes to improve communication between the TSA and local law enforcement. It will also look at the response time of airport police, the placement and effectiveness of panic alarms, and whether there are good communication protocols and equipment in place for emergencies.
The Associated Press has reported that as terrified travellers dived for cover, TSA officers — who are unarmed — fled the screening area without hitting a panic button or using a landline to call for help. Meanwhile, the two armed airport police officers assigned to protect the terminal had left for breaks minutes before the gunfire and so were unaware of the shooting.
It took a call from an airline contractor to a police dispatcher, who then alerted officers over the radio, nearly a minute and a half after the shooting first started.
Pistole praised the swift police response, which he said came within two minutes of the radio call to officers. Police officers then took the shooter into custody within 2 1/2 minutes, he said.
Pistole also said he wanted to “make sure that the police are actively engaged in terms of patrols, that they are a visible show at and around checkpoints.” No final decisions have been made on how working with LAX police may be changed, he said.
LAX Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said there have been some adjustments to the airport’s security, but she would not comment further on officer deployment.
More than 30 groups, including law enforcement, airlines and airport operators, have met twice since the shooting to discuss and provide recommendations, Pistole said. The review will be submitted to Congress within 90 days. It’s unclear if it will be made public.