Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jefferson County looking outside Sheriff’s Department for airport security: Watertown International Airport (KART), New York

In an effort to reduce the strain on its Sheriff’s Department, Jefferson County is looking to other agencies to provide security at Watertown International Airport near Dexter.

“We’re looking into all the options,” said County Highway Superintendent and Airport Manager James L. Lawrence Jr.

With the Sheriff’s Department down two deputies, the county is looking to the three villages near the airport — Brownville, Dexter and Glen Park — for support.

“Our primary focus is to just make sure there’s uninterrupted protection over there,” said Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, chairman of the Board of Legislators’ airport ad-hoc committee. “It’s in the concept stage. We haven’t moved anything too far down the field.”

The Aviation and Transportation Act of 2001 requires at least one law enforcement officer at each Transportation Security Administration airport security screening location. There are two flights out of the airport each day Monday through Friday, and one flight on Saturdays and Sundays. This year, American Airlines submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation to add a second flight on Sundays through its American Eagle subsidiary, which provides service from Watertown to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

It is not clear whether police officers at the village level, who work primarily on a part-time basis, will be able to provide the kind of consistent coverage that the airport requires.

But County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said that any agreement would be structured to provided full coverage at the airport.

A bigger problem concerns questions about what jurisdiction the officers will have at the airport, according to county attorney David J. Paulsen.

The Sheriff’s Department and the state police have countywide jurisdiction, Mr. Hagemann said. But the jurisdiction of village police may be restricted to the municipalities they serve.

The TSA’s obligation is to discover a security problem, Mr. Hagemann said. After they discover the problem, the TSA turns it over to the local law enforcement entity.

“If an incident were to arise, to resolve or mitigate it, it gets turned over to the local policing agency,” Mr. Hagemann said.

And while village police still would have certain arresting powers as peace officers, they would not have the full complement of abilities they would in the normal course of their duties.

That means they likely would have to call in a sheriff’s deputy or a state trooper to assist in any serious situation.

The same would be true if the county decides to hire a private security agency, another option that is on the table, according to Mr. Hagemann.

The issue hinges, to a great extent, on economics.

In 2006, when the county took over the airport, the TSA provided a healthy stipend to subsidize security operations there. Seeing an opportunity to create a satellite outpost for the department, the county planned to station a platoon of four deputies at the airport.

Over the last several years, however, that money has all but dried up, leaving taxpayers on the hook for those extra positions, according to county officials.

The county currently receives about $29,000 from the TSA for security operations at the airport — a paltry sum compared with the more than $97,000 it was receiving just two years ago. That money could be used to hire additional part-time village police or private security contractors, though it may not cover the entire cost of those contracts, Mr. Hagemann said.

The Sheriff’s Department first raised concerns about the duty in early March, when Sheriff John P. Burns said that a personnel shortage would keep him from providing a detail to the airport. The department was down four deputies at the time.

In July, Undersheriff Paul W. Trudeau told legislators that despite two new hires, the department still was short-staffed and no longer would be able to guarantee a deputy at the airport.

At issue were the remaining two vacancies at the department. The Sheriff’s Department wants those positions filled to bring it up to full strength, but the county is looking to cut those positions to save money.

The two positions were part of the addition of four deputies to the department’s roster in 2006, during the early days of the county’s involvement with the airport.

Before agreeing to fill the two remaining vacant positions, county officials want to see a hard accounting of how the Sheriff’s Department is allocating its resources — something they say the department has been unwilling to provide.

Mr. Trudeau did give a presentation to county officials in March, after which he said he heard nothing for months.

With budget season in full swing, administrators and legislators are trying to scrape away every excess expense in a year in which revenues are down and state-mandated expenditures continue to mount.

At the same time, the airport has been such a resounding success that sustaining operations there has become more of a priority than ever.

The county just announced the name of the newly hired airport manager — Grant W. Sussey, director of aviation at Orange County Airport, Montgomery — plans are underway for a terminal expansion and, on Friday, workers were installing a new hangar at the site.

But the board hasn’t lost sight of the basics.

“When it comes to serving our customers at the airport, it’s up to us to have a plan A, B and C so that operation goes off without a hitch,” said Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the board’s General Services Committee.

“We need to either fill those two positions or hire private security at the airport. ... It’s a discussion we’re having,” said board Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown.

Mr. Burns and Mr. Trudeau did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

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