Los Angeles International Airport: Home to the celebrity jet-set, the bikini activist, the expensive taxi and that giant semi-circle of sweet rave statues out front. (Stonehenge, for lovers!) Also, less glamorously, host to the most sticky-fingered luggage rummagers of any airport in America, according to a new CBS LA investigation.
Scary stuff. Between January 2002 and April 2010, CBS reports, “LAX had 4,546 claims of items lost or stolen from luggage — the most of any airport in the nation.”
Airport officials are trying to flip that discouraging number into an advertisement for LAX, explaining to reporters that it's “the number one origin and destination airport in the nation and that is why more claims are filed here.”
Nice try, guys. But the U.S. government begs to differ: As of 2006, it called JFK airport in New York the busiest international air gateway in the country, by a good margin. So the fact that JFK only saw 3,946 stolen-luggage claims in the same amount of time that LAX saw 4,546 can't be brushed off with an “aww, we're so popular.”
(The good news: Those same officials told CBS that their most recent data, for the first four months of 2010, put LAX in third, instead of first, for claims. Let's hope that sticks. But in the long-term, we've got the top spot on lock.)
It's hard to say whether the thefts were at the hands of random criminals or officials, but we can't think of a particular reason why there'd be more petty criminals lurking around our gates than elsewhere.
CBS, for one, is pointing a big fat finger at TSA employees. (As if they didn't already have the worst rap of any uniformed fleet, what with their amateur-porn machines and baby gropage.) Reporters talked to Philip Little, “a security expert who has done a study on LAX and other airports”:
Police sources said … they have been investigating TSA employees and baggage handlers, working separately and together, going through luggage and stealing items in a matter of seconds.
“Thefts occur because we make it easy for people to steal,” said [Little].
He said because luggage is constantly on the move — sometimes in secure areas – it is easy for employees to get away with thefts.
One who did get caught was TSA agent Ryan Driscoll, arrested May 10 at Terminal 6 for investigation of felony grand theft. CBS says security tape caught him pilfering a fistful of jewelry in the baggage screening room. (Security on security — so meta.) Ominously, Little says: “It's not the question of how many we catch, because occasionally one gets caught, it's how many we don't catch.”
Like the agent that L.A. resident Felicia Winningham suspects of stealing her vitamins — and her two-year-old daughter's Elmo DVDs — after she handed her bag over for a security check before a recent flight. Tsk, tsk.
We will say this: The Los Angeles city workforce has a reputation for thinking itself above the law, oftentimes committing the same crimes it is tasked with enforcing. By no means are we saying the majority are guilty — but it's a culture of fraud and self-servitude, no doubt. To begin: Sheriff gangs, LAPD DUIs and school-cop sexual harassment.