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This Week, TSA Chief Pekoske Said The Agency Should Eliminate Use of VIPR Canine Teams At Train Stations, Airports & Major Events & That Locals Should Foot The Bill If They Really Want To Keep The Canine Teams That Save Lives & Screen For Explosives

Schumer Says Putting Burden Of National Security On Already-Strapped Localities Like NYPD Is Unacceptable; In Push Against Very Bad Idea, Senator Says Feds Must Commit More Canine Teams—Not Less—To NYC Area 

Schumer: Without Critical Canine VIPR Security Teams Backed By Feds, Safety At Local Train Stations, Airports & Major Events Would Go To The Dogs  

On the heels a new proposal from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to axe critical canine Visible Intermodal Prevent and Response (VIPR) teams used to keep NYC airports, train stations, --like Penn, as well as major NYC events-- safe, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer sounded the alarm and demand that the TSA immediately reverse course and keep highly-trained canine teams right where they are in NYC: at our airports, train stations, ferries, ports and even at special events, like parades and marathons. These canine teams help ensure national security and allow TSA agents to more effectively and efficiently screen individuals for explosives. These dogs often play a necessary and critical redundancy to other security measures that screen individuals for explosives or explosive residue. Schumer detailed the recent announcement by the TSA to axe the federal funding for these canine teams and made the case for keeping them funded in New York City, where they are desperately needed.   

“Without critical canine security teams backed by feds, safety at local train stations, airports and large-scale events in New York City will simply go to the dogs,” said U.S. Charles Schumer. “We are talking about preserving the most basic charge of the TSA: to keep America safe. And to suggest in a formal Congressional hearing that we can do without these specially trained teams is both myopic and maddening. Given the all-too-recent suicide bombing attempt within the Port Authority subway station, just this past December, it is unthinkable that the TSA is even considering the removal of our security firewall; the canine VIPR teams. In fact, I have fought for and helped deliver extra canine teams to New York City in the past—because we need to beef up these kinds of security operations, not cut them to the bone or throw the responsibility onto the NYPD.  So, it is incumbent upon the TSA to immediately reverse course on making a potentially catastrophic decision to slash the funding that delivers these teams and the idea that local governments can bare the national security burden. Canine teams are not a luxury. In New York City, canine dog teams can mean life or death.”‎

This week, at a House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee hearing, TSA chief David Pekoske said he wanted to eliminate the agency’s use of canine VIPR teams and turn the responsibility over to state and local governments. According to Politico, Pekoske stated, “"We just can't afford to continue to provide that level of support.”

“My message to the TSA is a simple one: if you think you are going to tell New York to just pick up the security slack and then the tab for a canine VIPR team that is--and must remain--a federal responsibility, you are barking up the wrong tree, because it should not happen,” Schumer added.

Schumer said that, under that proposal, locals would foot the bill if they really want to keep the canine teams that save lives and screen for explosives. Schumer also pointed to a September Inspector General’s report found that the TSA lacked a comprehensive strategy for surface transportation, with only two percent of its budget spent on surface transport. Schumer said the TSA’s recent proposal to so egregiously slash this funding and axe canine teams would contradict the Inspector General’s concern.

Schumer also said he has fought this sort of effort once before. The President’s proposed budget grossly slashed VIPR canine teams by $43 million or 23 total teams. However, the bipartisan omnibus, negotiated by Senator Schumer, restored those cuts and provided $58 million to the VIPR initiative, sustaining 31 teams.

Canine teams include a highly trained detection dog and a handler. Visible Intermodal Prevent and Response (VIPR) teams, which augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States using an asset of DHS including canine detection teams. VIPR teams may approach people and ask questions, examine bags, search vehicles, conduct searches, and patrol the airport to detect suspicious activity.  According to the TSA, the agency allocates canine teams to specific cities and airports utilizing risk-based criteria that take into account multiple factors, including threat score, number of people with secure access, and passenger throughput.

Schumer has always supported the TSA’s use of canine screening teams and last year, after his push, the TSA increased the number of highly trained Passenger Screening Canine Teams at New York City airports. Canine teams have been useful in the past. For instance, Schumer pointed to an incident on February 20th when eleven people walked through an unattended TSA checkpoint at JFK Airport. According to reports, eight of the passengers were screened by a canine prior to boarding.