Recently Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced House Resolution 3608, the Stop TSA’s Reach In Policy Act … also known as the STRIP Act, which would “strip” Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) of their “police like” badges and “law enforcement” uniforms.
Before we can go forward in discussing Rep. Blackburn’s STRIP Act, we must first look back at the history of the TSA’s front line agents, their titles and uniforms.
At the time the TSA entered airports to fully take over passenger and baggage screening on the 12th of February 2002, its front line staff were known as “Screeners.” On the 4th of October 2005 the TSA announced that it would be changing the title of its Screeners to “Transportation Security Officer” (TSO), and the new title was phased in.
In 2007 the TSA’s National Advisory Council determined that uniforms were a “major issue” among the agency’s TSOs and created an independent “Uniform Board,” including Managers and TSA, to design a new uniform in conjunction with the Office of Security Operations. The design decided on included dark pants with a blue strip, a dark blue shirt, epaulettes that displayed rank and a badge. The new uniform was publicly unveiled on the 17th of July 2007 and began being issued in the field initially at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in mid-2008, being fully phased on the 11th of September 2008.
Before TSA TSOs were issued their badge and new uniform they were required to attend a two day training programs where they were instructed on how to address passengers in a ‘calm manner,’ how to conduct themselves on duty, briefed and reminded that they were not law enforcement and received detailed instructions that their badge was never to be displayed while off duty.
On the 28th of January 2009, shortly after the TSA had completely phased in the new uniforms, the 1st Session of the 111th Congress House passed H.R. 1, which stated all future uniforms, and textile products, purchased by the TSA must be made from US materials and manufactured in the United States.
This all leads us to the 8th of December 2011 and Rep. Blackburn’s House Resolution 3608, the STRIP Act … nearly six years after the title Transportation Security Officer was put into place, four and a half years after the TSA unveiled its new uniforms and three and a half years after the TSA introduced its new uniforms in the field. Under Rep Blackburn’s STRIP Act, which has 25 co-sponsors, TSA personnel that are not trained as Federal Law Enforcement or eligible for federal law enforcement benefits should be prohibited from wearing a badge or ‘law enforcement style’ badge while carrying out their duties.
Part of Rep Blackburn’s argument against the TSA’s uniform and badge is that some TSA TSOs have abused their limited authority, and have acted in a manner that would be considered impersonating a police officer … and incredibly small and somewhat insignificant number when compared to the roughly 45,000 TSA TSOs who wear the agency’s uniform and wear a badge.
What Blackburn fails to include in her argument are multiple cases each year where law enforcement officers have misused their uniform, badge and position of power to commit crimes, including rape, extortion, theft, breaking and entering, etc, etc. Much like instances of crimes being committed by TSA TSOs in uniform, crimes committed by law enforcement are insignificant statistically the number of police officers who wear a uniform and badge to work every day.
Rep. Blackburn’s argument that TSA TSO abuse their uniform also fails to address a significant factor … that many others who are not law enforcement wear “law enforcement” style uniforms every day without any interference from the Congress. Security guards at Target stores around the country wear dark neat uniforms and a police style badge. Mall security at many shopping centers wear uniforms thats read “Security Officer” on them. Bounty Hunters legally enter people’s homes without warrants, routinely wearing ingnavy blue windbreakers with the word “AGENT” emblazoned on the back with a badge issued by no one. Firefighters in many cities wear a badge on a blue button up uniform shirt. EMS personnel in many cities wear a badge … in Nassau County, New York, the police department runs the full-time EMS services, their Medics wear a Nassau County Police patch on the sleeve of their ‘law enforcement style uniform’ and an NCPD badge, but they are not police officers.
Police officers throughout the United States wear uniforms of all colors, blue, tan, white, green, black, some uniforms wear no hat, some wear uniform hats some baseball hat. Some police uniforms have a metal badge, others a sewn on badge for certain uniforms. Within some departments, there are multiple different uniforms worn every day by different officers that look nothing a like, duty uniforms, Class A uniforms, polo shirts, BDUs … so what does a police uniform look like any more?
Does Rep Blackburn intend to take on each of these uniform issues?
Rep. Blackburn is quoted as saying “Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip searches 85 year old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3 year olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando. Enough is enough! The least we can do is end this impersonation which is an insult to real cops.”
Rep. Blackburn has legitimate concerns with the state of the Transportation Security Administration, but none of these issues has anything to do with the uniform TSA Transportation Security Officers wear or the title granted to them by the U.S. Federal Government.
Why has Rep. Blackburn chosen to focus on the shallow cosmetic issues with the TSA rather than the real meat of the issues with the agency?
Rather than change the uniforms TSA TSOs wear, why not focus on additional training, an increased base pay to attract a better qualified group of future candidates, and invest in research focused on effective security operations rather than ineffective security procedures?
When the TSA is allowed to operate legally questionable VIPR Teams, consistently face territory issues related to mission creep,deploy ineffective advisory teams on foreign soil, operate incompatible screening hardware, act in a manner with little or no oversight, along with a long list of serious operational and policy issues … focusing on uniforms is like looking at gaping infected wound and putting a Brooks Brothers shirt over it to make it look nicer.
There are real issues and real threats that must be addressed … focusing on sound bites to make headlines while mulling over future personal political moves is not the way to address the real issues and threats.