We received an excellent group of essays from this year's AMA Foundation Sudent Leadership Scholarship applicants! The topic this year was
"Mind the Gap: FAMs must respond to federal violations at our nation's airports".
You don't need to be an Airmarshal, or part of our Legislative team to understand how to fix the our agency. Just look at the quotes throughout this page from the student applicants.
Most of these students did not even understand the topic when they began, but after interviewing their parents and researching the issue (the main goal of the essay assignment), we see ideas and comments emerge that simply make sense.
The AMA submitted a cpmrehensive Evolution plan to FAMS leadership, our road map for agency improvement, cost savings, and FAM welfare. These students hit on most of the elements of our plan - all by themselves!
We hope the Administrator reads these quotes, and acts upon our suggestions to reorganize TSA law enforcement. These quotes come from ordinary citizens who spent a bit of time researching the issue and forming common sense opinions and obvious solutions. These students are the very people we serve - the travelling public.
You can read one of these complete essays below. Perhaps we should invite some of these students on our next legislative trip?
Mind the Gap
FAMs must respond to Federal violations at our nation’s airports and fill in the gap where criminal activity has a chance to burrow into our society.
The phrase ‘one trick pony’ was created during the early American Circus to refer to the ponies that were only able to be taught one trick. Later on, this expression was applied as a joke to people who specialized in only one specific skill or task. One may use ‘one trick pony’ to describe that Federal Air Marshals are only good for a particular job: addressing terrorist hijackings on aircraft. However, I feel that Federal Air Marshals have many skills. Many often overlook the application of those skills, and there is a vital need for them to address the gap in that exists in our airport security.
Considering the inherent duty of sworn law enforcement agents is to enforce criminal law, the FAMS need to adopt a policing practice. Airports in the United States are treated as part of the territory of the state, or district, that is simultaneously a portion of the United and operate in a legal structure of overlapping ‘concurrent jurisdictions.’ The known enforcement duty of FAMS is that they enforce maritime criminal jurisdiction on an aircraft in flight as well as the United States Federal Criminal Law violations committed in their presence anywhere in the United States. The public generally views the local police as the primary law enforcement presence in the airports; however, they are not the only people in town to keep the public peace and maintain order.
The local airport police function as if they were working in their local municipalities, and their airport area of operation is simply a division of the territory where they practice their jurisprudence. Their primary backup comes from their colleagues patrolling in streets outside the airport boundaries, and they utilize their agency’s resources and court systems to perform an ‘extended duty’ at the airport. They think of the airport in terms of how they feel in their overall community. Often, passengers are tourists and visitors to their local culture. They strain their resources and personnel to expand out into airport duties. Due to their traveling between airports, Federal Air Marshals should have a specific role of patrolling in airports as the local police have too much to handle.
Air Marshals are necessarily a unique law enforcement agency. They wear many hats, from VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response), JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force), Liaisons, and general TSA investigations. They interact with every law enforcement agency in the world that are connected to the airports. They cross through many jurisdictions, and navigate multi-faceted aspects of law numerous times a day. During a workday, they may come across an incident under their authority at one location, yet the same incident at a different location would be out of their jurisdiction. That also works in reverse where it could initially be outside of their authority and then instantly fall within their realm.
Due to the uniqueness of the job and the inherent complicated legal awareness FAMS must possess, they are law enforcement officers that can have either a substantial yet general law enforcement authority, or a small but specific one. The sliding scale that they must constantly adjust to is one of the reasons they need to focus on responding to Federal violations at our nation's airports. The other is that our public needs them to assist resource strained local police departments at the airports. FAMS are an untapped ‘force multiplier’, as well as the best practical support in certain situations. As of now, everyone who has some control over how the Air Marshals operate only sees or utilizes them as a ‘one trick pony’ (Merriam-Webster). They are the pony that defends against terrorists on aircraft, despite having a foot in the communities where they conduct small scale VIPR, JTTF, and liaison activities.
My father has been an Air Marshal since 2002. He came in with almost eight years of police experience, having been a uniformed officer in another federal agency, served as a task force detective with a State Police task force, and as a Sheriff Investigator on special investigations and intelligence units. He recently worked two tours on VIPR, and I interviewed him for this essay. His perception is that FAMs can and should always do more, but the people in charge feel safer by having us available to do the job where we try to stop aircraft hijackings and keep the planes from being used as weapons of mass destruction. This mindset demonstrates that the FAMS are stuck in a rut of a bureaucratic philosophical limitation.
He expressed that generally in Federal Law Enforcement, the government attempts to maintain a separation of powers amongst law enforcement agencies and gives them specific tasks to handle. The idea is that they do not want to create one national police force that has all the power because they believe it could be abused and create a Nazi Germany like a police state. Thus, having numerous agencies, each with their limited focus of authority, keeps the agents accountable under designated congressional members to the agencies who perform their oversight. I feel that this separation works for the most part, and provides better control of the law enforcement agencies by a member of Congress who have to listen to the public. Although, when it comes to the Federal Air Marshals role, they are suffocating the agency by not giving it a significant enough role to prove its effectiveness.
As I have interpreted my father's stance, I reckon that while deployed on planes to await potential terrorists, Federal Air Marshals cannot generate the meaningful statistics that members in Congress understand when they determine the usefulness of an agency. For example, Congress sees a particular cost for the program, then divides that cost by the amount of police activity stats that were generated for the year. I often see on the news that when they evaluate how many arrests the FAMS makes in a year (with arrests being the commonly accepted statistic utilized by everyone to evaluate the performance or danger level of any particular area or agency), they see that it costs hundreds of millions of dollars per arrest.
In addition, the congressional authorities seem to ignore that there wasn't a FAMS service in place on 9/11 to stop the terrorists. This problem occurred because the Sky Marshal program only looked outward towards other countries and didn't accurately focus domestically. This program only consulted with foreign intelligence services and never spent enough time interacting with local police. Today the FAMs do all those things, but the agency doesn’t correctly capitalize on their most efficient enforcement opportunities.
Addressing the gap in our nation's airports, local police patrol the unsecured side of the terminals, parking lots, and roadways. They maintain a police presence at the TSA and contracted security checkpoints. When a response is needed on the secure, post-screened side of the terminals and onboard a departing or arriving aircraft, they are the primary responders. The ‘gap’ exists because local police are spread thin and the concerns of the Federal Government and Federal Laws are not met. For example, there is only one AFSD-LE at the airports that have them, and sometimes they cover multiple airports in their jurisdiction. All the other Federal agencies have a minimal footprint, and are present in rare instances as needed in furtherance of their missions, not to respond to incidents around a checkpoint.
FAMs conduct their mission fluidly, and silently. They maintain behavior detection surveillance and as the news has recently reported, observe specific persons who are known threats or could be threats. FAMS are an untapped resource that can fill in the gaps of other agencies, enhance security, and uncover higher statistics of criminal activity in airports that currently undetected and unenforced.
As a young adult female in college, I can see that many nefarious people are always trying to make a profit by conducting some illegal, prohibited, and harmful acts because they understand that policing officials are not looking for them correctly. Part of this problem results because Federal Air Marshals have been under-utilized and victimized by both a lack of creativity and vision. They should be doing more in the policing aspect of their job, and they have all the necessary skills to do so. They are the one consistent factor in every airport in the nation. Why aren't we utilizing them as such, especially concerning the interests of Federal law? They could seamlessly network and act as a liaison between all airport police nationwide. They can fill in the gaps across airports, and bring together the loose ends of the different police fiefdoms. The FAMS should be performing law enforcement normalization functions across our nation’s airports.
Federal Air Marshals do not currently do everything they can or should. Furthermore, they need to address the gap in where criminals have the opportunity to disappear in our society. Our next question should be, "how do we affect this change in the FAMS culture and mindset, and get the people in control of the FAMS to accept and sign off on the changes?" Federal Air Marshals must respond to violations of federal laws at our nation's airports because nobody else currently does.