Utah Airports Have High Confiscation Rates

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Over the past three years, U.S. airport passengers have surrendered an average of 14,000 potential weapons - enough to arm every passenger on 33 filled-to capacity jumbo jets.

''We can't really speculate why people keep bringing prohibited items,'' Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said. ''A lot of people honestly forget they have something wrong, and others are simply not preparing themselves carefully to go through airport security.''

At Utah's airports, Moab and Vernal have among the highest rates in the nation for potential weapons surrendered per 1,000 originating passengers, according to a copyright story in the Deseret Morning News.

Moab ranked sixth of 444 airports - finding 259 potential weapons per 1,000 passengers _ and Vernal ranked 10th - finding 113. The overall average for airports nationwide was nine.

At the Salt Lake City International Airport, 189,210 potential weapons were collected over the past three years, according to data obtained by the newspaper through a public records request made to the Transportation Safety Administration.

Salt Lake's average of 7.4 weapons per 1,000 passengers was slightly below the national average for ''large hubs'' of 7.7.

Earl Morris, the TSA's federal security director for Utah airports says TSA staff finds ''15 percent to 20 percent more items than we actually confiscate'' at Salt Lake City International.

That's because passengers who inadvertently bring some smaller prohibited items along are allowed to get envelopes and stamps from onsite gift shots and have TSA mail the items to them.

TSA's data however, does have some glaring holes, the newspaper reported.

For example, the agency appears to have quit tracking the number of firearms surrendered after August of 2004.

So, while data show about 1,000 firearms surrendered nationally in the three years examined, Morris said Salt Lake City International alone actually found 162 guns in that time. TSA data shows the airport collected just 19.

Of the actual number, 38 were retained for evidence in prosecutions He said 38 were retained for evidence in prosecution. Others were returned to owners, some of whom had them in checked luggage but had forgotten to declare them, Morris said.

The newspaper's review of data also shows that smaller airports tend to find more weapons per passenger than larger ones.

Utah airports follow that trend. Cedar City's airport screeners found twice as many weapons per passenger as those in Salt Lake. St. George screeners found seven times as many; Vernal found 15 times as many; and Moab's frequency was 35 times that of the state's largest airport.

Morris surmises the discoveries happen in part because ''people in small rural communities (around smaller airports) don't fly as often, so they are not as familiar with rules and regulations. And if you are from a farming community, maybe you are more likely to have things like a pocketknife or tools that are prohibited.''

He also notes that small airports have fewer services and won't have some of the options available to passengers - like mailing home a questionable carry-on item - as found in large airports.