Lawmaker wants to strip TSA officers of badges

Airport screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and other airports around the country would be stripped of their police-like uniforms under a bill introduced in Congress.

If passed and signed by the president, the bill would prohibit TSA employees from using the title “officer” and wearing uniforms with badges unless they have received federal law enforcement training.

TSA screeners have long come under fire for what critics call heavy-handedness when it comes to searches of airline passengers as part of heightened security following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Recently, two women in their 80s complained of being stripped-searched at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. A Dallas woman traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson said TSA agents demanded to search her afro hair style for weapons in September.

The TSA said it has about 50,000 officers nationwide, including about 1,100 at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The lead sponsor of H.R. 3608, which has been referred to a House committee, is U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has more than two dozen fellow Republicans signing on to the bill, according to The Hill.com.

In a release, Blackburn  said the TSA screeners have impersonated real law enforcement officers and some have committed crimes doing so. She cited instances in New Jersey and Virginia, including an alleged rape by a screener showing his TSA badge.

The lawmaker also complained about aggressive airport searches.

"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!" Blackburn said in a release. "The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops."

Jim Fotenos, the TSA spokesman, declined to comment on the House bill but defended the agency's officers in an email Friday to the AJC.

"While we do not comment on proposed legislation, 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," Fotenos ssaid in a statement.

The congresswoman said the TSA reclassified former "screeners" as "officers" in 2005 and changed their uniforms to resemble federal law enforcement officers.

In 2008, she said, metal badges similar to those worn by federal law officers were added to the uniforms. The TSA officers, however aren't required to take any law enforcement training nor do they have law enforcement benefits.

Fotenos said the TSA introduced uniforms to be "more reflective of the critical nature of their work." He also said the agency "maintains a close working relationship with law enforcement and reaches out to law enforcement partners to address potential criminal activity."

Blackburn said the TSA staffers are "officers" in name only.