Guns in peanut butter and a whole chicken: What TSA agents found during a record-breaking 2022
We all know you can't bring a gun aboard a commercial flight, but that didn't stop a record 6,542 failed attempts last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration -- some of them downright bizarre.
There was the gun hidden in a PlayStation video game console in Atlanta. And another in a passenger's arm sling in Rochester, New York.
Then there was the passenger who crammed a disassembled .22-caliber handgun into two jars of peanut butter before trying to board a flight at JFK in New York.
Not to be outdone, another passenger attempted to slip a gun past TSA agents at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida in early November by stuffing it inside a raw, whole chicken.
"The plot chickens as we barrel our way closer to Thanksgiving," the TSA joked about that one on its Instagram page. "We hate to beak it to you here, but stuffing a firearm in your holiday bird for travel is just a baste of time. This idea wasn't even half-baked; it was raw, greasy, and obviously unsupervised."
Those four seizures made the TSA's list of Top 10 Catches of 2022. Other odd finds included an inert hand grenade in Milwaukee; a cattle prod hidden in a guitar case at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.; crutches stuffed with soiled money in El Paso, Texas; and drugs concealed in hair scrunches in Boise, Idaho.
While the TSA likes to have a little fun with the annual list -- you can watch the video revealing the list on the agency's YouTube channel, youtube.com/@tsa -- this year's numbers are serious business.
The 6,542 firearms TSA agents seized at 262 airports last year represent a 9.5% increase over the previous record of 5,972 in 2021. About 88% of the guns found in 2022 were loaded.
"When a passenger brings a firearm to the checkpoint, this consumes significant security resources and poses a potential threat to transportation security, in addition to being very costly for the passenger," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said when the record was surpassed in December.
How costly? Besides potential criminal charges, the TSA last year increased the maximum civil penalty for firearms violations to $14,950. Passengers caught with a weapon also lose pre-check status, which allows them to bypass some airport security measures such as taking their shoes off, for at least five years.
The good news is that both O'Hare and Midway airports are bucking the trend.
Agents at O'Hare found 85 guns in 2022, or one for every 304,575 travelers screened. That's down from 91 in 2021, but well above the 33 in 2020, 50 in 2019 and 48 in 2018.
At Midway, TSA crews seized 38 firearms last year -- one for every 170,915 passengers -- down from 42 in 2021.
"Our TSA officers are doing a fantastic job preventing weapons from making their way onboard to aircraft, but the responsibility falls to passengers to pack smart and keep prohibited items out of their baggage," Illinois TSA Federal Security Director Dereck Starks said.
Have gun, won't travel
When it comes to firearms seized, which airports topped the list?
The Top 10 last year, according to the TSA:
• Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, 448
• Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, 385
• Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, 298
• Nashville International Airport, 213
• Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 196
• Orlando International Airport, 162
• Denver International Airport, 156
• Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, 150
• Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 134
• Tampa International Airport, 131.
We would be remiss if we didn't take note that Pat Gengler, the longtime undersheriff and public information officer for the Kane County sheriff's office, retired at the end of December.
Gengler, 52, started in 1996 as a patrol deputy and left after serving as the sheriff's right-hand man for two administrations.
Gengler, a native of the Aurora area, worked in security at the Hollywood Casino in Aurora for four years after graduating college. He said it helped him learn to deal with people -- happy winners, angry losers, drunk people.
After applying for law enforcement jobs, "Kane County called me first, and I just made a home there," he said.
Susan asked for memories, good and bad, of his tenure.
"The roughest day was Delnor (Hospital)," Gengler said, a reference to the day in May 2017 when a hospitalized county jail inmate overpowered a guard, stole his gun and took a nurse hostage for several hours. The inmate beat and sexually assaulted her. Eventually, a SWAT team shot the inmate to death.
As for his good memories, "I got to do pretty much everything I could have imagined," Gengler said. "I never thought I would have been good at it."
Mayors honor top prosecutor
Congrats to DuPage County State's Attorney Bob Berlin, who on Wednesday was named the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference's Governmental Leader of the Year.
Berlin, the county's top prosecutor since 2010, earned the award for his role in working with state legislators to make changes to the SAFE-T Act, as well as for his advocacy on behalf of local governments, the mayors conference said.
Darien Mayor Joseph Marchese presented the award to Berlin during the group's annual legislative reception and dinner.
"I am truly honored to accept this award on behalf of my entire office as well as law enforcement throughout the county," Berlin said in an announcement of the award. "Public safety is a collaborative effort. The support my office receives from law enforcement throughout the county is extraordinary, and for that I thank them."
Marchese called Berlin a champion for public safety in DuPage County.
"He has consistently collaborated with municipalities across the county to decrease crime and improve public safety," he said.
The group is a council of 35 municipal governments in DuPage. Its members include both elected and appointed officials.
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