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STRIP Act targets TSA uniform: End 'impersonation' of 'real cops'

December 20, 2011 |  1:35 pm

Photo: A TSA agent conducts a secondary inspection and pat-down at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana last year. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles TimesThe STRIP Act is not some adult show.

It's a new House bill that stands for Stop TSA's Reach In Policy and would prevent Transportation Security Administration officers from wearing law enforcement uniforms and police-like badges and calling themselves officers unless they receive law enforcement training.

"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!" said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) "The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops."

The American Federation of Government Employees said the bill was insulting to the 44,000 TSA workers it represented and did "nothing to add to our national security.’’

 "Every single member of Congress should be supporting federal employees, not trying to demean them," the union’s national president, John Gage, said in a statement.

Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, said his advocacy group supported the measure.

"I just think it’s important to not present an image to the public which is not true," he said, adding that TSA had gone from "more of a friendly operation ... there to help you" to workers who were "intimidating passengers."

The bill, which has drawn 29 co-sponsors in the few weeks since it was introduced, would prohibit any TSA employee "who has not received federal law enforcement training or is not eligible for federal law enforcement benefits from using the official job title of officer, or wearing a metal badge resembling a police badge or a uniform resembling the uniform of a federal law enforcement officer."

A TSA official said the badge and uniform represent "the professionalism of our employees and the seriousness of our work."

The agency, which changed the name of screeners to officers in 2005, said in a statement:

"TSA's frontline workforce protects the traveling public at airports across the country every day, and every day our officers stop deadly weapons from getting on aircraft. In 2008, as part of the organization's continued efforts to transition the workforce to a cadre of well-trained, professional transportation security officers, TSA introduced uniforms more reflective of the critical nature of their work and of the high standards they uphold."

The turbulence over Blackburn’s bill comes as the House on Tuesday is poised to send to President Obama a popular measure that would require TSA to develop an expedited screening system for military personnel and, "to the extent possible,'' accompanying family members, if the armed forces member is traveling on orders and in unform.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), a Navy veteran and former commercial airline pilot, after he witnessed military personnel experience lengthy waits, including having to take off their boots and medals, at security checkpoints at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

"Our soldiers who are sent off to fight for our country or returning from the battlefield deserve to be treated like VIPs in our airports," Cravaack said at a recent hearing.

Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on TSA to designate a “passenger advocate” at every airport who can be summoned by passengers to hear their concerns if they feel they have been inappropriately treated by screeners.

His request came after an elderly woman claimed that she was strip-searched at John F. Kennedy Airport. TSA says it does not conduct strip searches.

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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: A TSA agent conducts a secondary inspection and pat-down at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana last year. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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