Wednesday, December 14, 2011
SAN ANGELO, Texas — It doesn’t seem like a week goes by that there isn’t some horror story about overzealous searches by Transportation Security Administration screeners at airport checkpoints.
Last spring, there was the video that went viral of a frightened 6-year-old girl being subjected to a thorough pat-down by a female screener.
A pregnant teenager was recently barred from a flight because her handbag had a decorative imprint of a handgun on it, clearly fake from the photos and positively fake once the screeners examined it.
And then there are the constant reports of 85-year-old women — for some reason they all seem to be 85 — who are forced to partially undress because they have a defibrillator, colostomy bag, back brace or bulging adult diaper.
The TSA denies that these are strip searches, and technically they’re not in the sense of what inmates go through entering a maximum-security prison. But to these humiliated and perhaps terrified women, they are, in fact, strip searches.
The inevitable backlash took its time coming, but now it has started to arrive.
The House Transportation Committee, instrumental in the creation of TSA, has introduced a bill, called STRIP — for Stop TSA’s Reach-In Policy.
The measure would ban screeners who have not received federal law-enforcement training from using the title “officer” and ban them from wearing uniforms that look like those of law-enforcement officers.
The proposed law seems petty only if a traveler hasn’t been subjected to a super-officious TSA officer who feels entitled to throw a little weight around as a matter of emphasizing the screener’s superior status.
He can force you to miss your flight; you have little or no recourse.
The TSA has a standard bureaucratic defense: The screener was only “following rules and procedures.” And the rules and procedures can’t be elaborated on for reasons of “security.”
It is not being overly skeptical to believe that the stonewalling on the rules and procedures is because some of them are really stupid and it would embarrass the agency if they became public.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has proposed stationing special advocates at security checkpoints to immediately resolve passenger complaints about security screenings.
Maybe one day these advocates will be necessary, but it seems that a wiser, more effective course would be to empower TSA supervisors to make judgments on the spot.
Presumably they have a certain amount of experience and professionalism or they wouldn’t be supervisors, at least one hopes that’s the case.
And the agency’s constant incantation of “rules and procedures” suggests that the supervisors’ professional judgment has been superseded by agency red tape.
It would bolster public confidence if the TSA showed some confidence in its own people.
© 2011 Scripps Newspaper Group
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