LAX Shooting Prompts Calls For Security Overhaul

Last week's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport is leading to calls for a broad re-examination of TSA security policies, and coordination with local law enforcement at the country's busiest airports. Paul Ciancia, 23, faces charges of murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport.

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Last Friday's shooting at Los Angeles International Airport is prompting calls for a broad re-examination of the Transportation Security Administration's procedures in the nation's airports. Authorities have filed a murder charge against 23-year-old Paul Anthony Ciancia. Police say he used an assault rifle to force his way through a screening checkpoint at LAX, killing a TSA officer in the process. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: When the TSA was created in the weeks following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were brief discussions about whether the new agency's thousands of agents should be armed. Here in LA this past weekend, TSA administrator John Pistole was asked that question again, in light of Friday's deadly incident at LAX, one of the busiest airports in the world. Pistole promised only that he'll go back to Washington and ask Congress for a thorough review of all federal airport security policies.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN PISTOLE: And this will be something that I'm sure we'll be discussing writ large, not any particular issue as to arming or not.

SIEGLER: Armed police officers were commonly stationed at the entrance to TSA screenings after 9/11. But some airports, LAX included, have moved away from that in recent years in favor of having officers roam the terminal. So they're not at predictable, specific places.

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday, Texas Republican Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said in the end, attacks like Friday's are just hard to stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL MCCAUL: Anybody can show up, as we saw in the Navy Yard, with a shotgun, in this case with a semi-automatic, and you know, it's like a shopping mall. Outside the perimeter it's almost like an open shopping mall. So it's very difficult to protect.

SIEGLER: The terminals at LAX, for instance, are pretty compact. At most, the street is just a dozen or so yards from the ticketing counters and the TSA checkpoints that buffer the outside from the main gate areas that are crowded with passengers.

For now, security at the airport has been beefed up, and LA World Airport Police officers are on high alert. That's especially noticeable right here in the reopened Terminal 3, where out on the street I can see, two, three, four police cars right in front of the double doors, and now an officer walking in with a bomb-sniffing dog.

MARSHALL MCCLAIN: The talk now about TSA trying to get firearms, that's just an extremely bad idea.

SIEGLER: Marshall McClain is head of the union representing the airport police officers at LAX. He says TSA agents don't have law enforcement training and weren't hired to do the job that airport police officers do. McClain says Friday's shooting is an opportunity to bring about reforms in federal airport security policy.

MCCLAIN: We need to come up with federal guidelines that instead of mandating an officer to sit in a chair at a checkpoint, let's look at trying to, one, fortify the checkpoints in the event that we do have some active shooter situation. We want to improve the biometrics that are there - you know, face recognition software.

SIEGLER: McClain says right now there's no federal mandate outlining how security should be set up and run at all airports, nor has there been much of an effort to smooth tensions between airport police and the TSA that have existed since the agency's inception. Like TSA administrator Pistole, McClain is planning to travel to Capitol Hill in the coming weeks to call for not just a review but a thorough overhaul of federal airport security in the wake of Friday's shooting. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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