Police check the area around Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport Friday.

Police check the area around Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport Friday. Reed Saxon/AP

Victim of L.A. Airport Shooting Is First TSA Officer to Die on Duty

Union president says tragedy shows why screeners are federalized.

The still-unnamed victim of Friday’s fatal shooting at Los Angeles International Airport appears to be the first Transportation Security Administration officer to die in the line of duty, J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told reporters in a conference call.

The fallen employee was a male transportation security officer. Speaking from Washington and relying primarily on television reports from the crime scene, Cox said he had been in touch since early Friday morning with TSA Administrator John Pistole and the AFGE local president to share condolences about the tragedy, in which three other officers were reportedly injured.

“There is a reason why the federal government federalized these jobs,” Cox said. “You go down to Orlando [Fla.,] and you find [Republican Rep. John] Mica constantly trying to contract out this type of work to put it in the hands of the lowest bidder who is not properly trained.” Contract screeners were used before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Judging from reports that the shooter had voiced anti-government rhetoric, Cox said, “Some of the rhetoric about government being bad creates some of this fallout. It’s a clear example of why the jobs need to be federalized. A contract screener would have had a whole lot worse situation going on at LAX.” 

Cox noted that transportation security officers are professionals “well trained to handle volatile situations, which happen on a recurring basis.” They undergo background checks to get their jobs as well as ongoing monitoring. “What we had pre-9/11 was a total contract workforce, and the record speaks for itself,” he said.

Transportation security officers face thousands of assaults every year and endure many injuries, Cox said, which is why the union opposes guns in airplane boarding areas and favors giving the officers the power to make arrests. Because of sequestration and budget cuts, the TSA workforce is also understaffed, he added. There are 2,157 TSA workers at LAX, according to AFGE.

Correction: AFGE incorrectly identified the victim of the shooting as a behavior detection officer who had relocated from Montana recently. He was a transportation security officer and had not just moved from Montana.