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Polis Report

Toy Gun Story

By Michael Learmonth

Blame for last Saturday's 90-minute shutdown of Terminal A at San Jose Airport is falling squarely on the shoulders of a lowly pre-board screener, reminding observers of the old saying: fecal matter rolls downhill. (OK, so it's the PG version of the old saying.) Last week's trouble started when an x-ray screener mistook a toy gun for a real revolver and sounded the alarm alerting police. The problem is, the screener, whose job it is to detain any suspect until police arrive, lost track of the passenger in the excitement, causing a search of the entire terminal and two jets, delaying flights and causing consternation across the country.

"The operator was in error," understates Russell Devorak, manager of International Toll Services, which provides screeners at the airport. "We're still investigating." And while no disciplinary action has been taken pending the end of the investigation, pre-board screeners are routinely dismissed for missing any of the decoy weapons undercover FAA agents carry through the gates to test the effectiveness of the screening process.

Still no word on whether the airlines will examine the wisdom of paying screeners between $4.75 and $5.15 an hour after they've completed a mere 10 hours of training (see "Minimum Security," in the Jan. 2 Metro). The pay rate of screeners is a political football being punted from the airlines to the aiport to the federal government, all believing the others should foot the bill for keeping airports safe.

"I would like to spend more money," says Devorak of the pitiful screener salaries. "But that may not solve the problem." A study, he says, shows that screeners making twice that amount have netted the same number of screw-ups. The FAA, meanwhile, hasn't decided who it should fine for the snafu: the airlines or the parents of the toy-gun toting kid, who, we hear, also have some loose Monopoly money burning a hole in their suitcases.

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From the March 6-12, 1997 issue of Metro

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