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Romulus — Citing concern for their safety and that of passengers, Transportation Security Administration officers rallied Wednesday at Detroit Metropolitan Airport asking that the federal government hire armed security to protect them.

Joined by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, more than 35 union leaders representing the TSA officers said it is time for beefed up security in light of the March 21 attack on TSA officers by a man armed with a machete and wasp spray at the New Orleans International Airport and another attack in Los Angeles two years ago, which left a TSA officer dead.

Dingell said TSA officers told her they fear that something tragic could occur at Metro Airport as it did LAX that left a TSA officer dead.

"A number of them spoke to me about their concerns, about what we need to do to protect our airport, our passengers and to protect the brave individuals who are keeping us safe," she said. "They have dangerous, high-pressure jobs. And we love to complain when we have to take our shoes off, but we never thank them for making sure that people aren't smuggling something through that could hurt us when we are up there."

American Federation of Government Employees leaders said they have been in talks with both TSA officials and members of Congress and that dialogue has begun but that this rally was designed to being attention to the issue to the flying public.

Although they are usually protected by local authorities, TSA agents say that they would feel much safer with a cadre of armed agents under the TSA umbrella charged exclusively with overseeing theirsafety.

The protest at the north end of the departure area of the McNamara Terminal was the first of its kind at any U.S. airports, organizers said, but others are planned. TSA officers held up signs that read, "Secure our checkpoints," and "TSOs deserve a safe workplace.

A spokesman for the TSA in Washington said the agency has made security and safety changes following the death of a TSA agent in Los Angeles that includes mandating active shooter training and exercises for TSA employees and requiring bi-annual evacuation drills; acquiring additional duress alarms to close existing gaps; ensuring that all airports have explicit maximum response times; and continuing to have an increased VIPR team presence at airports.

The TSA also issued recommended standards to airports for law enforcement presence at checkpoints and ticket counters during peak travel times and further recommended bi-annual active shooter training and exercises.

But TSA officers and their union reps say the changes are not enough.

"Federal property and employees have always been prime targets way back when we had stage coaches," said Dorothy James, a national vice president of the AFGE who is based in Chicago. "TSA is now in the line of fire. Each disaster has proven that security needs to be improved."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @leonardnfleming

(313) 222-2620

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