It is a bit complicated to fire someone that does not really work for you. Just ask Cosmo Kramer about getting fired from a job: "I don’t even really work here!" To which the boss replied, "That’s what makes this so hard." So when Amtrak‘s Police Chief John O’Connor caught wind of an apparent rogue screening checkpoint set up by the TSA at the Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia, firing them was all that much more difficult. But that didn’t stop the Chief. Amtrak stations are currently off limits to TSA personnel until "a firm agreement can be drawn up to prevent the TSA from taking actions that the chief said were illegal and clearly contrary to Amtrak policy."
Apparently a TSA Visible Intermodal Protection and Response ("VIPR") team showed up at the Savannah Amtrak station, posted a note that anyone entering the building was subject to search and then proceeded to make good on that promise. Skipping over the fact that one can apparently board or depart trains in Savannah without ever entering the station, it is not clear who authorized or even requested the search. It is clear, however, that the actions were not in compliance with Amtrak’s policy regarding security.
“When I saw it, I didn’t believe it was real,” O’Connor said. When it developed that the posting on an anti-TSA blog was not a joke, “I hit the ceiling.”
The TSA’s comment on the event is, typically, a non-comment that avoids the issue. They actually come close to suggesting that they might have done something wrong, but do not go so far as to acknowledge that the VIPR action apparently violates Amtrak policies.
However, after looking into it further, we learned that this particular VIPR operation should have ended by the time these folks were coming through the station since no more trains were leaving the station. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused for those passengers.
Chief O’Connor is on record as believing that the TSA’s intrusive searches are excessive for his organization’s needs and possibly unconstitutional. The VIPR searches in Savannah affected all passengers, not a random sampling as Amtrak policy dictates. The VIPR searches also included the "wanding" of passengers and isolation of "sterile" and "non-sterile" environments, a policy that Amtrak does not implement at any of their stations.
It looks like the TSA has once again messed up. Not really much of a surprise there, but certainly depressing. Watch the video. And cry a little. Next time the TSA agent groping you at the airport suggests that you have other options if you do not want to fly, remember that you really do not.