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Refining the TSA dirty thievery results

There’s a reason you never check a bag with something valuable in it.

ABC recently released information obtained from the Transportation ‘Security’ Administration (TSA), listing the number of employees fired for theft at various airports. Using the information, ABC put out a list of ‘The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft.’ And while that title might not perfectly encapsulate what the list actually communicates, the headline of the article including that list is even more misleading:

The Top 20 Airports for TSA TheftABC News

There are two problems here. For one, the list tallies only the raw number of firings from 2002-2011, not rates, which skews its results in favor of small airports with fewer employees, and fewer passengers from whom they can steal. As a passenger, you’re more interested in how likely a given passenger is to be robbed than in how often it happens, period. And for two, the list tallies employee firings, without accounting for the fact that not every luggage thief is apprehended.

I can’t really address this second point without additional information, but I thought it would be worth trying to refine ABC’s results to at least account for airport traffic.

So here’s a list of 20 airports that have fired employees for theft, ranked by number of annual passengers per theft. The first column lists the airport, the second how it did in ABC’s primitive estimation, the third adjusts for traffic, and the fourth indicates how much better or worse the airport’s ranking looks when traffic volume has been taken into account. For a concrete example, New Orleans ranked 15th in the number of employees fired for theft, but second when its low traffic volume was taken into account – a drop of 13 spots:

As you can see, the numbers are roughly similar for most airports, but Dallas and Atlanta come out looking much better, while New Orleans, Salt Lake City, and Dulles come out looking much worse.

Every airport on the above list ranked in the top 27 by traffic volume, except New Orleans, which ranked 49th. The other airports – with high traffic volume, and four or fewer firings – are Phoenix, Minneapolis, Charlotte, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago-Midway, Fort Lauderdale, and Ronald Reagan-Washington. To give you an idea of the worst any of them could have possibly done, even if you assume that these airports each fired four employees over the relevant time period, not one of them would have ranked worse than Dallas.

And now you know.

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