WASHINGTON — Screeners at the nation's airport checkpoints are going to start wearing police-style badges — but real officers aren't too happy about it.
Some sworn officers fear airline passengers will mistake screeners for law-enforcement officials with arrest powers.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is starting to equip its 48,000 screeners with 3-inch-by-2-inch, silver-colored, copper and zinc badges that will be worn on new royal-blue police-style shirts.
The attire aims to convey an image of authority to passengers, who have harassed, pushed and in a few instances punched screeners. "Some of our officers aren't respected," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.
Actual airport police, who carry guns and have arrest powers, worry that their own authority will be undercut by screeners who look like police. Every major airport has its own police department or is patrolled by local police.
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"A lot of cops at airports are not real thrilled about it," said Duane McGray of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network, an airport police association. "It's another way of saying (to airport police), 'You're not important.' "
Network president Paul Mason, chief of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport police, worries that passengers will mistake badge-wearing screeners for police and expect them to handle crimes. "There are going to be some growing pains on the part of the (screeners) and police," he said.
Agencies often give badges to workers who aren't law-enforcement officers. At the TSA, badges are carried by 1,200 inspectors who check that airlines, airports and others comply with security rules. The Environmental Protection Agency gives badges to its 250 workers charged with overseeing cleanups of oil spills and other hazardous releases, EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said.
Airport screeners will get badges after finishing a two-day training program covering issues related to badges as well as how to talk to passengers in a calming manner. Unlike police, who often are required to carry their badges while off-duty, screeners will be barred from wearing them when they are not working, TSA Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides said.
"We coupled the badges with the communications training to make it clear to our officers that they're there to facilitate our passengers," Rossides said. She said the TSA has no interest in giving screeners law-enforcement power.
In April, Baltimore-Washington International Airport screeners became the first to get badges and blue shirts, which replace white shirts adorned with a yellow TSA patch. Screeners at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will get them today.
A.J. Castilla, a screener at Boston's Logan Airport and a spokesman for a screeners union, is eager to get a badge. "It'll go a long way to enhance the respect of this workforce," he said.