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by Peter Moskos

April 11, 2010

Useless Air Marshals?

If Tennessee Republican Congressman John Duncan is to be believed, we spend $860 million for the Air Marshal Service. They make an average of 4.2 arrests per year. Not per officer. But the entire agency. That works out to $200 million per arrest.

Now I'm the first to say let's not judge police by arrest stats. But...

I would like to see some evidence that the Air Marshals have prevented anything (except the occasional Qatar asshole with diplomatic immunity smoking in the bathroom.)

Also, if the average Air Marshal makes $100,000 a year in salary and benefits, and let's throw in $100 million a year for guns and paperclips, where does the other $459,000,000 go?

According the congressman, there have been more arrests of Air Marshals than arrests made by Air Marshals.

[Full disclosure: Soon after I quit the Baltimore Police Department and was writing my PhD dissertation, I looked into getting a part-job with the Air Marshals. What could be better for a graduate student than--after a careful visual inspection of the plane, the passengers, and any potential threats--being paid to sit around and do nothing? And my offer still stands. Even as a temp. For free! Just pay for my training and give me a free ticket whenever I fly. I'll keep people safe.

Alas, the Federal Air Marshal Service does not hire part time.]


Bob G. said...

Sounds we have s serious "accountability gap" here with the service.
(doesn't surprise me, though)
I worked for the Treasury Department (ages ago), and the "waste" is everywhere, believe me.

Stay safe.

Marc said...

As i recall, they didn't even "prevent" that asshole from Qatar from smoking in the bathroom. They did however scramble fighter jets at some cost to taxpayers then detain and question all the innocent people on the plane for hours because he made some joke about trying to light his shoe.

NewOldSalt said...

Great speech. The last few administrations have harped on "high paying jobs" but the jobs they create, like these, add ZILCH to our society, instead they are sucking value from it.

And as far as plane safety, haven't the past few incidents been handled first and quickly by average citizens (shoe bomber, underwear bomber)? Even during one of the 9/11 attacks, the people on the plane rose up and fought back against the hijackers.

These days I imagine people being too angry to sit back and watch someone try to destroy the plane and everyone on it.

How about we can the program and instead just offer some reward money? $50K for each person physically aiding in subduing and holding terrorists caught in the act, and subtract $10K for each needless vigilante punch or kick administered to the terrorist once he's been subdued.

qintuq said...

Yeah, but how many attacks HAVEN'T happened b/c everyone knows about air marshalls?

Actually that also happens to be a valid question, and I have no idea how to answer it.

Still, I think that a lot of security procedures do improve security, even if only by detterence, until some asshole journalist decides to tell the whole world that they're useless

PCM said...

I think there are a lot of useless security measure that cost a lot of money until some brave investigative journalist decides to tell the whole world that they're useless.

How else are duped taxpayers and ignorant policy makers to learn? That's why the Founding Fathers gave constitutional protection to the press.

You think the Air Marshals are going to tell you they're useless? Of course not. It's their job. It's what they do for a living.

There's only so much money. I'd prefer it goes to something that actually works. Don't know what to spend it on? Set up language schools so Americans can learn Arabic and Pashto. Hell, teach it to the Air Marshals. They have time on their hands.