Airport screeners to wear police-like badges; officers object

Mark Puente
Plain Dealer Reporter
Airport security screeners will soon be wearing police-like badges to boost morale, but police across the country -- and Cleveland -- aren't pleased.

The Transportation Security Administration's 48,000 screeners will be issued new royal-blue police-style shirts with 3-inch-by-2-inch, silver-colored, copper and zinc badges.

The new shirts and badges will convey authority to passengers and reflect the seriousness of screeners' duties, said Elio Montenegro, a TSA spokesman.

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Every major airport is patrolled by local police or has its own police force. Local police unions support strict security at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport but worry that airline passengers will mistake screeners for sworn officers. Thirty-eight Cleveland police officers patrol the airport.

Travelers need to know who the real police are for safety reasons, said Capt. Walter May, president for the local Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police supervisors. He said the screeners' badges could pose problems for travelers during emergencies.

"It's an impersonation of police," May said. "You don't want anybody being mistaken for police."

Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, agreed.

"The only people who should be wearing badges are police," he said.

Airport screeners have been wearing embroidered badges on white shirts since the agency's inception in November 2001. Screeners in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are wearing the new uniforms. TSA officials at Hopkins received the new badges a few weeks ago.

Screeners will not receive them until they complete a two-day training program, and it could be months before all workers have attended and completed the program, TSA Cleveland spokesman Doug Koman said. The new uniforms are currently being distributed.

Koman defended the shirts and badges, but he doesn't know if travelers will mistake the screeners for police.

"Anytime you're dealing with the public, there's a chance of confusion," he said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

mpuente@plaind.com, 216-999-4141


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