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Safety in the Skies: A Survey on Air Marshals

Safety in the Skies: A Survey on Air Marshals

November 13, 2008 7:00 a.m. EDT

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The Federal Air Marshal Service describes itself as "a highly trained, professional federal law enforcement agency charged with securing America's civil aviation system from both criminal and terrorist acts." And indeed, most U.S. adults (68%) who have flown commercially in the prior year feel the presence of an air marshal on their flight makes them feel safer, according to this poll (PDF) conducted for ProPublica by Harris Interactive.

At the same time, a large majority (73%) say it is unacceptable for an air marshal to have no prior law enforcement experience, as the service allows. In addition, a majority says a conviction for drunken driving (86%) or a non-violent crime (81%) is unacceptable. In a review of hiring and disciplinary practices, ProPublica found numerous examples of air marshals who had committed crimes or had been hired despite a criminal background or being fired from previous jobs.

Check out the complete results and methodology (PDF) for the survey, which was conducted Sept. 24 through Sept. 26 among 2,253 adults (PDF), including 982 who flew commercially in the past year (DOC). The percentages in the charts below refer to the latter group.

How would the presence of an armed Federal Air Marshal on your flight make you feel? Total Percentage  
I would feel more safe. 68
I would feel neither more nor less safe. 27
I would feel less safe. 5
Which of the following, if any, should be requirements to serve as a Federal Air Marshal? Total Percentage*  
Passing a psychological stress test 87
Having served as a sworn law enforcement agent/officer 77
Passing a polygraph (i.e., lie detector) test 62
Having served in the military 38
Graduating from college 35
Other 15
None 2
How acceptable, if at all, do you think it would be for the following people to become Federal Air Marshals? Total Percentage*  
  Completely/Somewhat Acceptable Completely/Somehwat Unacceptable Percent Unacceptable
Someone who did not attend college 68 32
Someone whose only previous law enforcement experience was an airport screener 23 77
Someone who has no previous law enforcement experience 27 73
Someone who has been convicted of a non-violent crime (e.g., intentionally writing a bad check) 19 81
Someone who has been convicted of driving under the influence (i.e., DUI) 14 86
Someone who was disciplined for misconduct in a previous job 15 85


*Multiple responses were allowed.

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