- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) An incident aboard Delta Flight 442 over the weekend has prompted critics of the federal air marshal program to argue that post-September 11 changes in the way officers handle danger aboard jets could prove to actually decrease safety.
While federal authorities say a marshal was justified in drawing his handgun on Saturday's flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia, consumer advocates and safety experts questioned whether the action was taken too quickly.
The air marshal program was turned over from the Federal Aviation Administration to the newly created Transportation Security Administration in February.
Before the shift, there were fewer marshals and they were trained to avoid showing weapons and stay out of passenger disputes, said Joseph Gutheinz, a former FAA investigator
Mr. Gutheinz, now a University of Phoenix criminal justice professor researching airline security, said he doesn't see the reason for the apparent change in policy.
"Under the old system, you just didn't pull out a weapon," he said.
There are too many dangers involved in showing weapons, including the danger that bullets could hit the plane or that the guns could be turned on the marshals by hijackers, Mr. Gutheinz said.
Two marshals on Saturday restrained a man who was going through other people's luggage and then trained a weapon on the cabin for a half-hour after passengers wouldn't stay seated, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
While one marshal huddled over the detainee, the other stood by the cockpit door with his gun trained on the cabin area, passengers said.
Administration officials said the response was carried out by the book. Marshal training uses role-playing, exercises with teammates, short-range weapons instruction and communications lessons, spokeswoman Heather Rosenker said.
The training mandates that if communication fails, marshals can "do what they believe is the right thing to do to get control of the airplane," Mr. Rosenker said.
But the fact that the man wasn't charged showed the response was an overreaction and that the marshals pulled their guns too quickly, Mr. Gutheinz said.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Robert Johnson said marshals are taught to issue warnings to passengers first. The two marshals on Flight 442 first warned the 183 persons on board to sit down and keep their seat belts on, Mr. Johnson said.
When certain passengers didn't obey, the marshals followed a "hierarchy of warnings" and ultimately had to draw a gun, he said.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the agency no longer has control over the marshals and declined to discuss the actions of what he called a "gun-happy air marshal."
David Stempler, president of the District-based Air Travelers Association, a passenger-advocacy group, said marshals need better training on how to issue warnings to passengers during an emergency.
"It's very difficult for innocent people to be looking down the barrels of guns on an airplane," Mr. Stempler said. "They need to do a much better job of communicating to the passengers on the airplanes. Passengers are used to ignoring these things."

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