The attack on at a TSA security checkpoint Nov. 1 at Los Angeles International Airport seems to have shocked the media, politicians and the general public.
I truly hope that it did not come as a surprise to any law enforcement or security practitioner.
There is a false sense of security that has been created by investing billions of dollars in creating TSA and security checkpoints after 9/11.
Up until last week’s attack at LAX, many people really thought that they were safe from all threats at airports, and that could not be further from the truth.
In an article I wrote in July and several articles before that, I have expressed my concern with these TSA checkpoints, security in the terminal areas and the role of security and police.
Any metal detector/security checkpoint, be it at airports or elsewhere, without armed officers places everyone in jeopardy.
The fact that TSA has detected so many weapons over the years is laudable; however the fact that none of these weapons have been turned on them before the LAX incident is just lucky.
The initial thought of protecting airplanes from people getting on with weapons or explosives, as we experienced during the 9/11 attacks, is a good idea, but there is a distinct difference between a terrorist trying to “sneak” weapons or explosives onto a plane and an all-out assault.
And this applies to any security operation using metal detectors and security personnel.
One operation I was in charge of in Chicago years back was to provide security for a high-risk museum exhibit coming from another country. Even prior to the exhibit arriving, the museum was receiving threats.
The decision was made to deploy metal detectors for the three-month period that the exhibit would be in Chicago. It was a big decision at a big cost.
During the three months of the exhibit, we screened almost 400,000 people through three metal detectors. Every hour that the metal detectors were being used for screening the exhibit was staffed with nine off-duty armed police officers and 15 unarmed uniformed security officers; this was in addition to all other security personnel.
At the end of the three months the officers had confiscated 12 knives, six handguns and a stun gun.
Most of the people who had their weapons confiscated were honest people from other states who did not realize it was a felony to carry a handgun in Chicago even if you had a permit from another state. A couple of people were suspicious in nature and escorted out of the building, and the guy with the stun gun ran off once it was discovered.
But our role was to provide security, not to be the police and arrest or chase people; it was to keep everyone safe.
There was no way I would have staffed a metal detector checkpoint without armed officers being present—it doesn’t make sense when you are dealing with the public, especially in a high risk environment.
Case in point can be made with the incident in 2009 at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. A man with a rifle walked in and immediately shot and killed a security officer point blank.
The death of that security officer was tragic, but the immediate response from other armed security officers at the metal detector checkpoint shows why staffing these points with armed officer is vital: Several officers drew their weapons and returned fire, shooting through the glass doors and striking the gunman several times, stopping him.
Had the gunman made his way past the checkpoint, thousands of people, many of them schoolchildren, were potential victims.
As security practitioners it is our job to avoid creating a false sense of security, even at the cost of being politically incorrect on gun issues or having to tell our employers the truth about costs and risks.
Jeffrey Hawkins is manager, strategic initiatives, private security sector for American Military University. He is a former law enforcement supervisor who transitioned into the private security sector serving as chief security officer in the pharmaceutical, health care, cultural properties, religious and corporate industries.