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For the week of May 14 - 20, 2003


Hailey to lose funding for airport security

Express Staff Writer

As of May 31 federal funding for security patrolmen supplied by the City of Hailey at Friedman Memorial Airport will be terminated, said airport manager Rick Baird Tuesday, May 6, at the regular meeting of the airport authority.

A letter Baird’s office received from the Transportation Security Administration, overseer of security for the nation’s 429 commercial airports and now part of the Department of Homeland Security, announced the termination of current agreements between the federal government and the airport.

"Security at airports since 9/11 has been significant and changing," Baird said, emphasizing the word changing. A year ago "airports were directed to ensure law enforcement at screening check points … at the X-ray machines."

Large airports have their own security forces, which were reinforced by federal officers after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Small airports previously considered secure with a flexible response requirement—meaning local law enforcement needed to respond within 15 minutes—were not granted the same level of federal support.

The only way Hailey could supply direct security at checkpoints 16 hours a day without neglecting the rest of the city would be to hire new people, Baird said. "The burden was abrupt and significant."

Hailey pays an entry-level patrolman about $35,000.

When the TSA order was delivered last spring, the airport had 30 days to comply or be shut down, said Hailey Chief of Police Brian McNeary.

The city has complied so far by hiring three new personnel. Friedman has been writing the checks to the city for the extra staff and the TSA has been footing the bill.

Having to maintain the same level of compliance unaided is not possible, Baird said, who added that no one knew how long the interim program would last.

But the city had some confidence that the program would be ongoing for sometime because a new patrolman, Aaron Flynn, recruited from Connecticut was just hired March 2.

In response to the airport authority’s question about whether there would be any flexibility on the part of the TSA Baird said, "One thing we know is that we don’t know." But, he did recommend that some compensation be made to Flynn if the TSA drops the ball. "We can’t divorce ourselves from this … we went to Hailey (for help)," he said.

Ending the funding does not mean that security may simply go away, however. A security requirement remains in effect, but the TSA is no longer going to pay for static sentries, said Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the TSA in Alexandria, Va.

Just what the requirement will be is still uncertain, but what is clear is that the federal government no longer believes it is necessary to keep law enforcement officers posted at the airport all day. Between flights, Flynn and the other officers on duty patrol airport property, not just the checkpoints. It is this type of work that the TSA has in mind for future officers on duty at or near the airport.

"With federal passenger screeners, air marshals, flight deck officers, increased (intelligence) sharing and having a public that is more confident and comfortable … the best use (of police officers) is not at check points," said Turmail.

This justification may be true agrees McNeary, who also believes that officers are most useful when patrolling, but if any finger pointing is to be done it could be in the direction of Congress said Baird.

The $397.4 billion omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Bush in February may be partly to blame because it lowers the overall TSA budget.

"A year ago the city was forced into this," he said. Now it will be up to Baird, the Mayor, who was away this week, and Chief McNeary to negotiate some kind of compromise with the TSA, who said an appropriate response window may be adapted so officers are not required to remain at the airport full-time. Based on such a scenario, the TSA may indeed sign separate compensation agreements with each airport said Turmail.

Conversations toward a resolution are underway but, Hailey officials do not anticipate a fair toss as the next round of security obligations are doled out.

"We never had any choice in this," said McNeary. "It is not a very reciprocal matter."



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