Armed but private security guards would watch over the airfield gates at John Wayne Airport under a proposed contract that would free more than a dozen sheriff's officers to patrol the terminals.
The Orange County board of supervisors is scheduled to vote on the contract Tuesday. It would pay a San Diego-based security firm about $750,000 a year to station guards at three vehicle checkpoints.
Those checkpoints are where aircraft owners, freight deliveries and other authorized visitors get onto the airfield itself. The traveling public does not use them.
Until now, the Orange County Sheriff's Department has staffed those checkpoints with special officers, at a current cost of around $1.8 million a year, airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said. She attributed the far higher cost to the officers' higher pay, their benefits and the expense of equipping them.
The airport wants to move those 16 special officers into its new Terminal C, and bring in four additional officers to help with patrols there.
The private guards who would replace them at the vehicle gates would carry guns but would operate under strict limits of their authority, according to the proposed contract. They would check credentials, inspect vehicles coming through the gates and, if needed, could make citizen's arrests.
The contract requires them to report any security problems or suspicious activity to the Sheriff's Department. It forbids them from attempting to "force or enforce corrective action (other than escort individuals from the premises)."
The company chosen to supply the guards, Heritage Security Services, has provided security to such high-profile events as the Super Bowl, World Series and a presidential visit, according to its website. That website does not list any other airport clients; a company spokesman did not return a call for comment.
Heritage Security beat out five other companies whose bids the airport considered. The proposed contract, worth $746,641, would last for one year and could be renewed for four additional years.