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4-legged TSA officer Messi retires after successful career in explosives detection

TSA K9 officer Messi was suprised with a retirement ceremony at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Friday, April 19, 2024. (7News)
TSA K9 officer Messi was suprised with a retirement ceremony at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Friday, April 19, 2024. (7News)
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TSA K9s have become such an integral part of the operation at airports around the country. In the D.C. area, they might be busier than ever.

The Airport Authority does not release statistics on explosives, but we do know that guns are being recovered at a record rate. The Transportation Security Administration intercepted 1,503 firearms at airport security checkpoints during the first quarter of this year.

At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Friday morning there is quite a retirement party for one of those hard-working four-legged officers. Messi, an 8-year-old, TSA explosives detection canine, is retiring. The yellow Labrador Retriever has been working with his handler, Peter Suh, at DCA for years.

READ MORE | Planes narrowly miss collision at Reagan National Airport, FAA says

A training aid decoy device will be hidden and Messi will search for it. When he hits on the item, the celebration will begin.

The removal of Messi’s TSA “Do Not Pet” patch will take place, signaling his official retirement. Messi was featured in the 2023 TSA Canine Calendar for February. He was clearly born to work for TSA because he enjoys watching airplanes and playing in the grass at nearby Gravelly Point.

Messi is a lovable and hard-working dog whose favorite game is playing with a tennis ball after work. As of Friday, he’ll be able to play all day long, a very well-deserved retirement after a long career in dog years.

So far in 2024, travel volumes are trending at nearly 6% above the same period last year. The number of firearms recovered represents an average of 16.5 firearms per day detected at TSA checkpoints, comparable to firearm detections during the same period in 2023, when TSA officers intercepted 1,508 firearms at airport security checkpoints, an average of 16.8 firearm catches per day. During both periods, more than 93% of firearms were loaded.

READ MORE | Three guns intercepted in four days at Reagan National Airport checkpoint

Last year, 6,735 firearms were caught at airport security checkpoints nationwide and 93% were loaded.

The number of airline passengers screened at TSA security checkpoints increased from the same period in 2023. In the first quarter of 2024, Transportation Security Officers, or TSOs, screened more than 206 million passengers, compared to more than 191 million passengers in the first quarter of 2023, representing an increase of 7.8%. The rate of passengers with firearms during the most recent quarter was 7.3 firearms per 1 million passengers, which is a slight decrease from the same period in 2023 when the rate of discovery was 7.9 firearms per 1 million passengers.

All three local airports now have explosives detection canines, narcotics and agriculture detection dogs, working different operations with different skill sets.

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