Safety in the Skies: A Survey on Air Marshals
November 13, 2008 7:00 a.m. EDT
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|
|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.