Bob Hope Airport in flap on bag swabs

TSA ends testing of unattended luggage, meaning county agents must be called in. By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam
4:39 PM PDT, May 5, 2012

The Transportation Security Administration has halted a “long-standing” arrangement with Bob Hope Airport police when investigating unattended bags, raising safety and security concerns among officials at the airfield.

In an April 19 email to his officers, the airport’s police chief, Ed Skvarna, said TSA no longer will test swabs taken of unattended bags in the public areas of the terminal. That means Los Angeles County sheriff’s bomb squad agents would have to be called in, creating a delay in determining if a bag contains explosive material.

He instructed his officers to stop asking TSA personnel to analyze the swabs because they “feel very intimidated and very uncomfortable” when asked to perform the test and they have to say “no” due to the new directive.

The practice stopped when TSA Federal Security Director Anita Minei informed Bob Hope Airport officials that the practice violates the agency’s policy, according to Skvarna’s email.

The email does not indicate when the directive was issued, and officials declined to comment, beyond saying they have since agreed on an alternative process.

After the order to halt the swab-testing, though, airport police officers had been documenting the time, date and name of the TSA employee who declined to scan a swab, according to the email.

In telling his officers to stop, Skvarna wrote that TSA officials were aware of the serious consequences that could arise from refusing to analyze swabs.

“It is very clear to the TSA that we hold them responsible for any consequences that arise from their refusal to analyze a swab collected from an unattended bag,” Skvarna said, adding that he, airport commissioners and executives were “not happy” when Minei told them she could not override the direction of TSA administrators.

“We think it flies in the face of common sense and sound public safety practices,” Skvarna said in his email.

Police departments at airports typically call in the bomb squads from their local jurisdictions when serious concerns arise about an unattended bag. However, the Burbank Police Department has no designated bomb squad, said spokesman Lt. Ed Ruiz.

The L.A. County sheriff’s bomb squad could be called in for Bob Hope, but the arrangement between the airport and TSA made getting results from unattended bags much faster.

Transportation consultant Jack Keady said abruptly ending such an arrangement could have had an adverse impact.

“The victim in all of this is time and efficiency,” he said.

Airport and TSA officials would not respond to specific questions about the situation — including how many unattended bags are swabbed during a typical week — citing security concerns.

However, both entities released a statement on Tuesday assuring the public that alternative measures were being implemented, though they would give no details.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority and TSA had a “long-standing internal policy regarding investigation of unattended bags in public areas of the airport,” the authority and TSA said in the joint statement, adding that they have “adopted alternative measures consistent with TSA guidelines and will continue to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public. Due to obvious security concerns, neither the TSA nor the airport authority will discuss the implemented measures.”


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