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Tue, Jun 17, 2008

New TSA Uniforms Draw Ire From Real Law-Enforcement Officers

Screeners Apparently DO Need Their Stinkin' Badges, Or Else They Get Beat Up

Screeners with the Transportation Security Administration are about to receive spiffy, more "authoritative" outfits... and that isn't sitting well with many sworn law-enforcement officers.

As ANN reported last year, the new "police-style" outfits include royal-blue shirts, similar to those worn by officers in many regional police departments. Most egregiously to true police officers, however, the uniforms also include 3-inch-by-2-inch, silver badges.

AAccording to USA Today, airport police officers -- real ones, the ones who went through weeks of training and have the authority to arrest people -- say bedecking 48,000 TSA screeners with law-enforcement-style uniforms smacks of disrespect for those with true police training.

"A lot of cops at airports are not real thrilled about it," Duane McGray of the Airport law-enforcement Agencies Network told the paper. "It's another way of saying (to airport police), 'You're not important.'"

Every major airport in the US is either patrolled by local police, or has its own standing police force. Airport police worry their authority will be undercut by TSA personnel who look like cops... or, conversely, that passengers will approach screeners to report crimes, instead of real police officers.

"There are going to be some growing pains on the part of the (screeners) and police," said Paul Mason, police chief at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, MO.

TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said screeners need to convey an image of authority to passengers, more so than the current white-and-khaki uniforms put forth. In some extreme cases, she said, disgruntled passengers have harassed and punched screeners.

"Some of our officers aren't respected," Howe said.

To be fair, several government agencies already equip personnel with badges, even those who aren't in law-enforcement. For example, Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said 250 EPA workers who oversee oil spill cleanups carry badges.

Screeners will receive their badges after a two-day training program... which will include information related to badge-carrying responsibilities, and how to defuse tense situations without copping (sorry) a false sense of authority.

"We coupled the badges with the communications training to make it clear to our officers that they're there to facilitate our passengers," TSA Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides said, adding it's highly unlikely screeners will ever be given true law-enforcement authority.

In an attempt to differentiate badged TSA workers from true police officers -- and to dissuade screeners from showing off to their friends, or acting like cops off the job -- screeners are barred from wearing the badges unless they're on duty. Real law-enforcement personnel are often required to wear their badges even when off-duty.

The new uniforms, complete with the badges, were rolled out at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in April, and will gradually make their way across the country over the coming months.

Boston screener A.J. Castilla says he's eager to get a badge. "It'll go a long way to enhance the respect of this workforce," he said.



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