To Protect and to Serve and to Text
Terminal 3 at LAX is where we go when booked on Alaska Airlines. We’re familiar with the terminal’s passenger screening area, where, last week, an angry white male drew a gun and began shooting TSA agents, killing one, wounding many others, and sending hundreds of terrified bystanders running for safety out of emergency exits and onto the tarmac. The gunman was eventually chased down and shot near the food court, far down the hallway from where he entered.
Although each terminal at Los Angeles International Airport is designed slightly different than the others, with minor variances in how traffic flows through checkpoints, they have a common design feature in the security zones: a desk or observation post manned by an armed Los Angeles Airport Police officer. Sometimes two.
A police officer with a gun. A fellow citizen authorized to use deadly force in exchange for her pledge to serve and protect us. A cop, on duty, ready to apprehend wrongdoers and shield the innocent from harm. While texting.
One of L.A.’s finest — in uniform, on the payroll, serving the public — checking his Facebook feed. Or watching the Eagles game. Or whatever people do on their phones when they’re not putting full attention on their job.
We’re Million Milers on Delta; we’ve flown a lot. LAX is our home airport. We’re speaking from direct observation: this style of distracted policing is the norm. You see it in every terminal. And you start to wonder if this is the best way for a police officer to do his job.
Would a fully alert officer have apprehended last week’s TSA shooter more promptly, before he got deep into the passenger gate area? Or is “policing while texting” now an acceptable level of “fully alert”?
The absentminded officers at LAX aren’t exceptional. They’re the rule. Walk along Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea and Highland Avenues, on the so-called Walk of Fame. This is where a recent spate of violent crimes — stabbings, shootings, beatings — have inspired an increased police presence on and near the tourist-packed sidewalks. At any time of day you’ll see one or more of these sworn public servants staring intently into her phone, thumbs ablaze. Now, this may in fact be a new form of technology-aided law enforcement. Maybe there’s a legitimate reason for all the heads-down police work. Maybe all the texting police officers are running background checks on the Tickle Me Elmo impersonators, figuring out which of them are elaborately disguised pedophiles and which ones are merely costumed panhandlers.
The next time you see an on-duty law enforcement officer playing with his phone — or engaging in high-tech espionage, or whatever it is they’re doing — we urge you to be an engaged citizen, a real American. Take a photo or video (which is completely constitutionally protected behavior), then do the duty of a true patriot: Look the officer in the eye, introduce yourself as a law-abiding and concerned citizen, and politely ask the policeman or policewoman to explain to you how staring at their phone is essential to their vital police work.
The people who were endangered or harmed at Terminal 3 are particularly curious.