Fewer pat-downs for kids in TSA security checks

— -- Children 12 and younger soon won't have to take off their shoes to get on a plane, and they'll get patted down less, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.

The changes will be rolled out this week and adopted in airports nationwide within months after Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers receive extra training, Napolitano told the Senate homeland security committee.

The new policy is an expansion of a pilot program that began in six airports in the spring.

"There'd be additional training for a different pat-down procedure for them and also, again, allowing them to leave their shoes on," Napolitano said.

The change in policy is the latest example of an effort by the department to have risk-based screening rather than the same process for everybody, the TSA said.

"As we have made clear, we are always taking steps, based on the most recent intelligence, to enhance procedures while at the same time improving the passenger experience whenever possible," TSA spokesman Greg Soule said.

"TSA anticipates these changes, which will begin rolling out in select airports this week, will continue to strengthen and streamline the security screening process for travelers," he said.

After public outrage in April over a video of a 6-year-old girl getting patted down at the New Orleans Airport , TSA John Pistole told the committee in June that the agency would try to avoid patting down children.

"We do want to move and are moving to a more risk-based approach to screening passengers, try to streamline procedures for those passengers who are low risk, which enhances our ability to focus on passengers who either we don't know or who are high-risk," Napolitano said Tuesday.

Authorities have been experimenting with new strategies for children at airports in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Houston, Miami and Orlando.

In those airports, TSA officers allow children repeated attempts to pass through full-body scanning machines that is geared to find possible weapons in clothing. But pat-downs might still be used if officers see something they're unsure of.

Under the new policy, random searches will still be conducted for children and adults to keep the system unpredictable, Napolitano said.

But she said the children would be able to avoid taking off their shoes and have different pat-down procedures.

The committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., noted that people get annoyed with airport screening. But he welcomed the changes for young children.

"Excellent," Lieberman said. "That's good news."

Other senators also said the change was needed.

"It troubles many Americans to see TSA screeners putting the very young and the very elderly through intrusive and, in most cases, unnecessary pat-downs," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.