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by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, August 25, 2011

After writing earlier today about discrepancies in how campus security officers are armed at two, similarly-sized urban universities (York University in Toronto and the University of Cincinnati in Ohio), I reached out to Chris Blake, associate director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, to ask his opinion. One major component that contributes to the discrepancy, he writes to me in an email, are different gun laws in this country and in Canada. "This could serve to diminish the need for officers on a campus to carry firearms," Blake writes. "I don’t know this for a fact, but it would seem to make sense."

Different gun laws are a piece of the equation I hadn't considered. Let's dig deeper. "I cannot specifically comment on gun laws in our respective countries (I am not a specialist) however I can mention and advise that no college or university have campus security/police armed with firearms in Canada," writes Pierre Barbarie, associate director of university safety and head of security services at McGill University in Montreal. Barbarie is also the Canadian Region Director on IACLEA's board.

It's a matter of "our different cultures ... and how we feel we should deal with criminal activity and protecting our respective campuses," Barbarie writes. But even within Canada, like in the United States, there's no uniform approach to campus security. "Some of us have sworn officers, some non-sworn and some have a hybrid approach, some have internal personnel while others contract private security personnel," Barbarie writes.

Thanks to Chris and Pierre for offering this very interesting insight into campus security approaches from both sides of the border.

-Whit Richardson
Managing Editor
Security Director News

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, August 25, 2011

I've been on the lookout for information about how campus security or police officers are armed since earlier this week when I wrote about the response from campus security directors to the Taser incident at the University of Cincinnati that led to the death of a student.

One thing I'm looking at are other intermediary force options being considered by law enforcement. I hope to speak with someone from Aegis Industries, which designed the Mark 63 Trident.

I also read this morning about York University in Toronto arming its campus security guards with batons and handcuffs. York University is not a small school. According to its website, it's home to 54,000 students. University of Cincinnati has roughly 41,000 students, according to its website.

So it's interesting to juxtapose universities that have sworn police officers carrying firearms, Tasers and pepper spray, with universities like York, whose campus security officers are only now receiving approval to carry batons. There are, of course, myriad variables that determine how campus security or police officers should be armed. The University of Cincinnati is in an urban environment. Judging by Google Maps, York University is, as well.

Obviously the two universities have different policies when it comes to security and intervention, and their relationships with local law enforcement. York has a "longstanding policy of non-intervention by security staff," but is now arming its security guards with batons and handcuffs to counter perceptions that the campus is unsafe, according to the newspaper article. University of Cincinnati has no such non-intervention policy.

During my research of my Taser-reaction story, I came across a 2008 report by the Department of Justice that looked at trends in campus security during the 2004-05 school year. In that report, I was surprised to discover that campus law enforcement agencies with non-sworn officers were more likely to authorize the carrying of Tasers than agencies with sworn police officers–24% to 20%. Since the DOJ only does that report once a decade, I couldn't find any more recent data on the carrying of Tasers by campus police.

These will be issues I'll be watching closely. Please chime in with your thoughts on arming campus security or police officers, or to point me to additional information I may have missed.

-Whit Richardson
Managing Editor
Security Director News

by: Whit Richardson - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

With campus security departments preparing for the imminent return of students, the recent news of a student's death after being Tased by a campus security officer at the University of Cincinnati may force a re-examination of policies dictating when Tasers should and shouldn't be used.

Here's what happened: UC police officers were responding to an early morning 911 call that reported an assault at a dorm when they encountered an agitated 18-year-old student who wouldn't back off after being asked multiple times, according to an article from the Cincinnati Enquirer. The student was shot with a Taser stun gun and died of a heart attack, according to the newspaper. UC police have temporarily stopped using Tasers as a result, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper's report also discusses the liabilities surrounding the use of Tasers and a new weapon being deployed by law enforcement officials: the Mark 63 Trident device from Virginia-based Aegis.

This may be an issue worth a deeper examination by Security Director News. What do you think?

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on airport perimeter security. According to documents released by the Department of Homeland Security, there have been more than 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since November 2001, reported USA Today.

The documents released don't provide details of the security breaches, but many argue that 25,000 is far too high, especially considering the amount of money being spent on airport security. However, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nicholas Kimball told the publication that the breaches represent a tiny fraction of 1% of the air travelers who used U.S. airports in the past decade. The term "breach" is broadly defined and can mean accidental violations that pose no real danger to the public, he said.

At today's hearing, "TSA Oversight Part 2: Airport Perimeter Security", Rafi Ron, the former security director at Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion International Airport, will be providing testimony as will Jerry Orr, Airport Director and Operator, Charlotte International Airport.

I'll have a story based on their testimony for next week's Newswire, but here are some figures that will be introduced at the hearing today:

• 6,000 security breaches in which Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to screen, or improperly screened, a passenger or a passenger's carry-on items.

• 2,616 security breaches involving an individual gaining unauthorized access to the "sterile area" at screening checkpoints or an exit lane without submitting to all screening procedures and inspections.

• 1,026 incidents when someone gained unauthorized access to a sterile area but was "contained" or "constantly monitored" by airport or security personnel until apprehended.

• 1,318 incidents in which someone gained unauthorized access from airport perimeters to aircraft operations or security identification display areas and was under constant surveillance until apprehended.

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, July 7, 2011

After all the hullabaloo over full-body x-ray machines being invasive, it turns out they may not be invasive enough. The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen recently discussed surgically implanting an explosive device under the skin of a suicide bomber to get past airport detectors and blow up a U.S.-bound passenger plane, a U.S. official said Wednesday, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.

While there is no evidence of an actual plot, the government has issued warnings to airports and stepped up security. My question is: How? How is it possible for TSA to possibly screen for this? The LA Times article suggests increasing the number of bomb-sniffing dogs as well as how many passengers are screened for explosive materials, but other than running people through x-ray machines, there's really no way to check for internal bombs.

Even John Pistole knows the TSA doesn't have the ability to do such internal screens. According to this article on

He was asked whether "current technology" could detect an explosive "in a body cavity," he said no. "If they do a body cavity bomb, we're not going to detect that," he told USA Today. "We can't eliminate that risk." Yesterday, the vice president of Rapiscan Systems, which makes the backscatter machines used in U.S. airports, agreed. The machines, he explained, are "designed to detect threats on the body, not in the body."

Basically, we're banking on the fact that it's not easy to surgically implant bombs in someone and even if it is implanted, hopefully something else will tip off screeners, like visible discomfort or stress from, you know, carrying a fricken bomb inside your body. I personally think the TSA should be training all of its officers in behavior detection skills so they can better identify suspicious people. And do we need a better reason to step up training than the prospect of people boarding planes with bombs in the bodies? I can't think of one either.

by: Whit Richardson - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There is never a shortage of potential blog opportunities about aviation security. As a matter of fact, I often have to hold myself back from sharing articles about the latest media firestorm involving the TSA.

For example, I just read this article that two Republican House members are calling for an investigation of the TSA after serious lapses in security led to the firing of dozens TSA employees at the Honolulu airport. Not familiar with that case? Check out this story. Basically, TSA employees weren't properly screening baggage.

Just yesterday, I posted a story about the Texas governor supporting and attempting to push through an "anti-groping" bill making it possible to criminalize enhanced pat downs at Texas airports. This bill previously passed the Texas House, but never made it to the Senate for a vote because the TSA sent a letter saying it wouldn't allow planes to come into the state's airports if passengers weren't being properly screened.

Texas's largest airport, Dallas Fort Worth, has had some security lapses of its own lately. Or that's what some people are saying after two filmmakers posted a video of themselves screwing around at the airport after their flight was canceled. Check it out:

I personally don't think these two men pose a real threat to aviation security (especially since they did have to go through security checkpoints), but the video certainly does reveal some shortcomings of internal security. The fact that they were able to break into the bar and help themselves to a beer would worry me if I were an airport vendor. In the CBS Early Show clip, airport officials say they were keeping an eye on the pair, but if they had seen some of the stuff they were doing (like pounding on the keyboard at the gate or breaking into a restaurant) I'm confident they would have done something about it.

What do you think?

Is this an example of security officials lacking awareness of activity happening in the airport? Or just two people having some harmless fun?

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, June 9, 2011

In the relatively near future you may not have to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag or your shoes from your feet before going through airport security. This potential change in security comes straight from the head honcho herself:

“We are looking at what we can do to minimize the amount of divestiture of passengers waiting in line so that it’s possible that most people can leave their shoes on,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told the annual conference of the American Association of Exporters and Importers in New York on Tuesday, reported the The Journal of Commerce.

But she was clear this change would take time. Like, say, in a year or two. It takes time to adjust policies, people.

Speaking of policies, I also read this interesting article from The Economist. I'm not sure if you've been following the media stories about the woman who claimed she was molested by a TSA officer during security screening. A large part of the incident was captured on video by her son. That incident (and several in the recent past) have raised questions about the ability of passengers to video tape at security checkpoints. According to Blogger Bob, the official blogger for the TSA, the policy is currently under review.

The Economist author had an interesting point, I thought, and started out by tipping his/her hat to the way TSA saying the agency has been handling these public incidents "quickly and professionally with public statements and explanations of its policies."

Tightening the rules to defuse criticism, the Economist correspondent writes, will just be "another strike against an organization not known for its embrace of passenger rights."

He dismissed the argument that photography shouldn't be allowed for terrorism reasons, although I think that could be a good argument myself.

Also, the TSA is not budging on its liquid policy, apparently. I read this story a few days ago in The Guardian, the U.S. had warned the European Union Commission not to relax its liquids ban:

A planned change in liquids regulations for transfer passengers carrying duty free purchases on April 29, 2013, viewed as a step change to a complete lifting of the ban in two years' time, was cancelled at the 11th hour after the US warned that it would introduce its own measures in response.

That's too bad. I never remember to leave room in my checked luggage for those bottles of duty-free liquor when I fly internationally.

by: Whit Richardson - Thursday, June 2, 2011

It has not been a good month for hotel housekeepers. Two high-profile assaults on housekeepers in the last month has prompted discussion about how hotels can better protect their staff.

The first incident took place on May 14 at the Sofitel Hotel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then-leader of the International Monetary Fund, has been accused of assaulting a maid on May 14, reported The New York Times. And on May 29, Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar, a businessman and former chairman of a major Egyptian bank, allegedly attacked at housekeeper at The Pierre Hotel in New York, reported the Huffington Post.

"The problem of hotel maids being inappropriately groped or propositioned has been known for a long time," said Rory Lancman, a New York state assemblyman from Queens. "They need to have as much protection as possible, and that means equipment and that means policies that protect them."

Lancman, who heads the assembly's subcommittee on workplace issues, filed a bill last month that would require hotels to give single-button alert devices to any employees who regularly enter guest rooms. The Hotel Association of New York City, which represents about 200 hotel owners, said it was studying the proposal.

The union said it will call for such devices as part of its contract negotiations with 150 hotels next year, and a state legislator has proposed a bill requiring the devices statewide.

However, as all security professionals know, there's no single solution to a problem. Training is obviously an important component. In the most recent assault, the hotel waited 15 hours to report the incident and we know that can't be their policy. I'm a personal fan of defense classes and think that approach can never hurt. In terms of the technology, the article also notes that it's important for these devices to be small and inconspicuous so that an assailant cannot remove them easily. They also must include a locating device that works indoors so security guards can find an employee in trouble.

Do you know of any hotels who are deploying such a system? Has it been effective?

by: Whit Richardson - Friday, May 27, 2011

Texas is taking matters into its own hands when it comes to the Transportation Security Administration's enhanced pat down procedures - and it wants hands off.

The state's House passed HB 1937 that would make it a misdemeanor offense for a federal Transportation Security Administration agent to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly [touch] the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast” of a person going through airport security, according to this article in The Texas Tribune.

The bill is currently stalled in the Senate after the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to legislators on May 3 saying the bill would be in direct conflict with federal law and could lead to a shut down of Texas airports.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, withdrew the legislation from consideration after a visit from TSA officials, which led to several Senators withdrawing their support for the legislation. So for now, Texans will have to endure the same enhanced screening as the rest of us.

by: Whit Richardson - Monday, May 23, 2011

I traveled overseas last week on a much needed vacation to Grand Cayman. Whenever I travel, I can't help but take note of the security measures in place, which apparently makes me a suspicious passenger. While I dislike the inconvenience of undergoing secondary screening, I must say, I'm always sort of excited to experience these enhanced measures, first hand.

On this particular trip, it wasn't until I tried returning to the U.S. that I ran into any security issues. While in the Grand Cayman Airport (in all its five-gate glory), I was pulled aside and told that I had been selected for secondary screening. They took me into a windowless room in the back and a security officer rifled through my checked luggage. Other than a bottle of Grand Cayman's fine Tortuga Rum, there was nothing but clothes in my luggage. Then, as I was about to board my plane, I was pulled aside AGAIN and another officer looked through my carry-on. Earlier, I had joked with my friend, who had to undergo explosive-detection screening on her way to Grand Cayman, that I always get selected for secondary screening and saw her laughing at me as she waited on the tarmac making sure the plane didn't take off without us (although, frankly, it wouldn't be the worst place to get stranded, that's for sure).

But, I can't fault security, of course, they're only doing their job. And, apparently they are constantly being tested, too. I read this story with interest about a covert security test recently conducted at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

On May 12, federal authorities sent a man of Middle Eastern or south Asian descent through security screening with a "device" hidden in a shaving kit. When the cylinder attached by wires to a watch was discovered by screeners, the police immediately handcuffed the man and started evacuating the area. However, before the airport was evacuated, TSA personnel intervened and informed the police that it was only part of a test.

TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said the agency routinely conducts thousands of covert tests each year at airports across the country. The one at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport ended up being a little too real because of "miscommunication" between the TSA and police, she said.

Yes, obviously communication here failed, but isn't it good to know that all these security measures that air travelers are being subjected to (some more than others) are actually working? Right?