The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently implemented a new protocol for officers who must fly armed. As of July 15, a secure unique identifier verifies an officer’s identity at a TSA screening station.
For an officer to fly armed, their department must send a secure message to TSA, explains Nelson Minerly, assistant special agent in charge, Federal Air Marshal Service. “The agency and requirements to fly armed are verified and a return message, containing a unique identifier, is sent from TSA to the requesting agency. The response from TSA is transmitted within seconds of the request, limiting any operational impact.”
Since its inception, the program has encountered very few, if any, glitches. “We anticipated some technical and logistical problems,” says Minerly, “but we piloted this program several months ago so people could get up to speed. Since the unique identifier became mandatory, I’d say the transition’s been seamless.”
The program is aimed at making existing protocols more secure, using existing infrastructure. But it was also designed to make the process more efficient.
“Before this came into effect, the officer was required to present a letter from their department, signed by the chief, to airline security personnel,” says Minerly. “This spelled out a number of things authorizing an officer to fly armed—they had to be a full-time officer, trained, have a need to fly armed, etc.”
The Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service worked with several other agencies and state and local law enforcement to devise this system. An added bonus: The Transportation Security Operations Center will now know the location of every armed law officer in flight, which “provides real-time situational awareness,” says Minerly.
If you haven’t yet flown armed or haven’t flown armed since the inception of this program, the process is simple and secure.
“Long story short, a LEO at the checkpoint must have a unique identifier,” says Minerly. “An officer will be required to present their unique identifier code, agency issued credentials, and a second form of ID at the airport on the day of travel. Without this unique identifier a state or local law enforcement officer will not be granted access to the secure area of an airport with a weapon.”
Efforts continue to get the word about the program out because its reach is so vast. In fact, it affects more than 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. “For those officers who don’t frequently fly armed, the requirements to fly armed can be found in 49 CFR 1544.219,” explains Minerly. Obtain additional information via e-mail at LEOFA@dhs.gov.
“It’s not a hurdle to jump through,” says Minerly. “This system is quicker, easier, and exponentially more secure in identifying properly credentialed law enforcement officers.”
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