Home Homeland Security Passengers caught with swords, hammers, baseball bats by TSA

Passengers caught with swords, hammers, baseball bats by TSA


By Dan Tracy
Orlando Sentinel

Deep in the bowels of Orlando International Airport is a small storage room crammed with plastic bins filled with power tools, hammers, samurai swords, meat cleavers and machetes.

The seized items, which also include pocketknives, handguns and baseball bats, are all taken from travelers who apparently don’t know or care that they are not allowed to carry them on commercial jets.

Transportation Security Administration officers confiscate a ton or more of contraband — officially called “voluntary abandoned property” — every six weeks at the airport.

Robert Urmos, a supervisory transportation-security officer, said he calls a disposal company when the bins begin to buckle under the weight of their contents. They are taken out of state, where they might be resold or donated.

“It’s time to move them on,” Urmos said Tuesday.

That usually means there’s about a ton, though right now the tally is a little short, at roughly 1,500 pounds gathered during the past month.

Mostly, people do not realize they are carrying banned materials, or they forget they have something on them or in their carry-on bags, said Jerry Henderson, who runs TSA at Orlando International.

“A lot of people just don’t think about it,” he said.

But a 3-foot samurai sword? A stun gun? Brass knuckles? A camshaft from a car? All of them are now in the possession of the TSA.

Henderson just shrugged.

Passengers who have their illegal possessions taken by TSA usually have three options. They can:

–Go back to baggage and try to reclaim their checked luggage, in which they can place the item.

–Pay to mail it home, if it is small enough.

–Leave it with TSA, which is by far the most common choice.

Carrying guns, especially loaded ones, is not handled so casually. Those are turned over to the Orlando Police Department, which can arrest the owner.

But since late May, concealed-weapon-permit holders no longer face going to jail for carrying a firearm into the security line. Previously, they were arrested, cuffed and taken to the Orange County Jail.

OIA had 42 arrests last year, but as of late May, there were only four.

TSA officers are constantly on the lookout for items that could be used as a weapon or an explosive that could take down a plane. Henderson said his 1,200-member force undergoes 7,000 hours of training a month on finding prohibited articles.

That would include aerosol cans — which can explode under pressure — along with fireworks, road flares, sprayable WD-40 and torch lighters, all of which are routinely discovered by TSA.

Some of the more common but difficult to detect weapons TSA is coming across are knives that appear to be credit cards and can be kept in a wallet. There were dozens in the TSA bins, usually found by officers monitoring X-ray machines.

TSA officers also have found knives concealed in lipstick containers and on belt buckles, as well as Tasers that appear to be cellphones.

“As the threats evolve, our training evolves,” said TSA spokeswoman Sari Kohetz.

TSA also has a collection of wooden toy rifles purchased at area theme parks. Each has a sticker affixed to the butt saying it cannot be taken through TSA security and must be placed in checked luggage.

They will be shipped out with the rest of the stuff.

And then the pile will start again.

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444 ___