Those who complain about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings at the airport will now find similar grounds for disgruntlement at train stations, music festivals, and sporting events. TSA's Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, or VIPR squads for short, have existed since 2005. But they are now vastly expanding as the TSA budget increases. While proponents argue for increased security, there is little evidence to support that these VIPR units are worth the intrusive nature and inflated budgets they require to operate. It's the same TSA ineffectiveness, just with more jurisdictions.
The most recent TSA action to gain national news was the screening of a 26-year-old man who claimed he had a bomb at the Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. After the overwhelming response by TSA agents, it was determined that the man was not a threat. Even though there wasn't a bomb, the TSA's response served as a defense of the often-criticized program.
However, TSA has also been in the news for internal problems. A recent Government Accountability Report revealed a 26% increase in misconduct amongst TSA personnel between 2010 and 2012, including illegal searches and even thefts of thousands of dollars from passenger pockets. Yet the yearly budget for TSA in 2012 was $7.85 billion. The VIPR program itself has a budget of $100 million and has expanded from 10 to 37 major teams.
Specifically, what VIPR squads do are patrol public areas at major commuter or patron areas such as train stations, concert venues, etc. Essentially, VIPR teams often stop and search passengers or patrons for "counter-terrorism" purposes. Many passengers find this to be intrusive and detrimental to traveling, even though it is supposed to make traveling safer.
It is not exactly clear why VIPR squads have been specifically increased, but with recent terror threats and intelligence that closed down many U.S. embassies and the occasional event like Connecticut, it's not hard for the government to build up the program.
Here's the problem with the VIPR squads, though. First of all, they're not the only units within their jurisdictions. Amtrak, frequented by VIPR units, has its own police force in addition to local lawn enforcement. Secondly, training certifications and standards are murky for these squads. Amtrak police are more likely to be qualified. Third, and the most problematic, is the lack of oversight and accountability for determining whether there’s credible evidence to act on. Within the guise of counter-terrorism, the actions of VIPR squads are akin to stop-and-frisk laws. Critics have pointed out that this is far from the original intent of the TSA: to screen airports.
TSA doesn't provide details on any possible terrorist threat that was prevented or neutralized by VIPR squads, so there's no proof that VIPR squads have made us safer. While it is difficult to assess prevented terrorist plots, the news and government reports have pointed to an expanded TSA that has continued to do what many think they do best: frustrate the average American citizen.