In the past few weeks since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) implemented its new “enhanced” pat down procedures there has been considerable backlash from the traveling public. This backlash has been loud and angry … but what is not heard or seen in the media is the quiet resentment of this new policy within the TSA.
A few days ago I contacted 20 TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO) to ask their opinions of the new “enhanced” pat downs. Of the 20 I reached out to, 17 responded. All 17 who responded are at airports where the new “enhanced” pat down is in place … and the responses were all the same, that front line TSOs do not like the new pat downs and that they do not want to perform them. I expected most to not like the pat downs … but what I didn’t expect was that all 17 mentioned their morale being broken down.
Each of the 17 TSA TSOs that responded to me detailed their personal discomfort in conducting the new pat downs, with more than one stating that it is likely they are more uncomfortable performing the pat down than passengers are receiving them.
Some comments from these TSOs include:
“It is not comfortable to come to work knowing full well that my hands will be feeling another man’s private parts, their butt, their inner thigh. Even worse is having to try and feel inside the flab rolls of obese passengers and we seem to get a lot of obese passengers!”
“Do you think I want to go to work and place my hands between women’s legs and touch their breasts for a few hours? For starters, I am attracted to men, not women and if I was attracted to women, it would not be the large number of passengers I handle daily that have a problem understanding what personal hygiene is.”
“Yesterday a passenger told me to keep my hands off his penis or he’d scream. Is this how a 40 year old man in business attire acts? He’ll scream? My 3 year old can get away with saying he’ll scream, but a 40 something business man? I am a professional doing my job, whether I agree with this current policy or not, I am doing my job. I do not want to be here all day touching penises.”
“Being a TSO means often being verbally abused, you let the comments roll off and check the next person, however when a woman refuses the scanner then comes to me and tells me that she feels like I am molesting her, that is beyond verbal abuse. I asked the woman if she thought I like touching other women all day and she told me that I probably did or I wouldn’t be with the TSA. I just want to tell these people that I feel disgusted feeling other peoples private parts, but I cannot because I am a professional.”
“I was asked by some guy if I got excited touching scrotums at the airport and if it gave me a power thrill. I felt like vomiting when he asked that. This is not a turn on for me to touch me it is in fact a huge turn off. There is a big difference between how I pat passengers down and a molester molesting people.”
Aside from the issue of TSA TSOs being required to physically touch passengers in places they do not want to be touching them during the ‘enhanced’ pat down, morale is decreasing for front line TSOs, due in part to an increase in verbal abuse. Each of the 17 TSOs who responded to me detailed a new level of verbal abuse they are experiencing at work.
The TSA has experienced a high level of turn over since its inception, however its turnover rate has decreased recently. With this decrease in morale, caused directly by a change in TSA policy, it is likely to begin experiencing a higher than average turn over again … which will further decrease the effectiveness of airport security.
Some comments from these 17 TSOs include:
“Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me, said in my presence as I patted passengers down. These comments are painful and demoralizing, one day is bad enough, but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments. If something doesn’t change in the next two weeks I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.”
“I come to work to do my job. It is not up to me to decide policy, it is up to me to carry out my duties as dictated by the Transportation Security Administration. When a person stands in front of me and calls me a pervert or accuses me of molesting them it is disheartening. People fail to understand that neither of us are happy about the intrusive pat down I am carrying out. I am polite, I am professional and while someone may not like what I have to carry out, they came to me because they choose not to utilize the alternative and less invasive method of security at my airport.”
“I served a tour in Afghanistan followed by a tour in Iraq. I have been hardened by war and in the past week I am slowly being broken by the constant diatribe of hateful comments being lobbed at me. While many just see a uniform with gloves feeling them for concealed items I am a person, I am a person who has feelings. I am a person who has served this country. I am a person who wants to continue serving his country. The constant run of hateful comments while I perform my job will break me down faster and harder than anything I encountered while in combat in the Army.”
“Do people know what a Nazi is? One can’t describe me as a Nazi because I am following a security procedure of designed to find prohibited items on a passenger’s body. A Nazi is someone with hatred and ignorance in their hearts, a person who carried out actions of execution and extermination of those based on their religion, origins or sexual preferences. I work to make travel safer, even if I do not agree with the current security procedures. Further more, I am Jewish and a TSA Transportation Security Officer, an American Patriot and to call me a Nazi is an offense beyond all other offenses.”
There are multiple sides to every story, and I think the point of view of those on the front lines of the TSA, those required to carry on the policy and procedures created by the TSA, are an import part of this story. I think those organizing efforts to change the TSA’s policy should also consider the impact to the TSA TSOs.
Rather than dehumanize the TSA TSOs, work with them, understand their views and opinions and work together to change the current TSA policies.