'Enhanced pat-downs' raise hackles with Preston Smith airport chief

-- Nov. 05--New "enhanced pat-down" airport security procedures, in which screening officers can touch the groin area and breasts with an open palm and fingers, have drawn criticism from Lubbock's airport director. "I think...


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Nov. 05--New "enhanced pat-down" airport security procedures, in which screening officers can touch the groin area and breasts with an open palm and fingers, have drawn criticism from Lubbock's airport director.

"I think that's way across the line," James Loomis said Thursday. "They have no probable cause to pat someone down; the probable cause is 'you bought a ticket.' "

Previously, passengers who were taken out of line at Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints were subjected to a combination of wand passes, and if needed, a body search that involved touching the groin area and women's breasts with the back of the hand.

In some airports, the enhanced pat-down is an option for passengers who do not want to walk through a full-body scanner, which produces an animated image of the person's nude body.

Preston Smith International Airport does not have body scanning machines.

The federal agency mandated the additional security step nationwide beginning Oct. 29.

Loomis said he was bothered after a friend who has an artificial limb said he would never fly commercially again after being subjected to enhanced pat-downs at the airports in Lubbock and Austin

"People don't want to be touched in those areas," Loomis said.

The federal agency started testing full-body scanning at several airports in 2009, using devices that create a scan of a person and can tell the difference between human skin and metallic or nonmetallic objects.

The matter took on more urgency after the Christmas Day attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive hidden in the crotch of his underpants as the international flight he was on approached Detroit.

A TSA spokesman said early tests of the enhanced pat-downs produced only six complaints when they were tested earlier this year at Boston's Logan International Airport and Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.

Luis Casanova, the TSA's regional spokesman for Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, described it -- and the body scan -- as a procedure of last resort.

"This would only take place in a situation where there've been multiple alarms that are unresolved by a standard pat-down, or it would be done randomly," Casanova said.

Before the security check reached this point, he said, the person would have already gone through a magnetometer wand test and been patted down once using the traditional back of the hand contact with sensitive areas.

He said some situations, such as a prosthetic limb, pacemakers and metal joint replacements, should be resolved easily.

To comment on this story:

walt.nett@lubbockonline.com --766-8744

james.ricketts@lubbockonline.com --766-8706

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