Update public on airport security
In everyday operations at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, thousands of travelers and site employees count on security personnel to keep traffic flowing and, whenever necessary, provide on-the-spot law enforcement services.
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In everyday operations at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, thousands of travelers and site employees count on security personnel to keep traffic flowing and, whenever necessary, provide on-the-spot law enforcement services. With flights touching down and departing on 27 international and domestic carriers, three interisland airlines and four commuter airlines — security is an ever-present concern.
That’s why a recent announcement that the airport’s owner and operator, the state Department of Transportation (DOT), intends to terminate an agreement, through which 57 uniformed state Sheriff’s deputies work at the facility, raises questions.
The agreement between DOT and the state Department of Public Safety (DPS), which has been in place for 15 years, may be scrapped by either agency at any time, with a six-month written notice. Now, with the clock ticking, both sides say they want to draft an updated agreement.
What happens if they fail to meet that deadline? DOT Director Ford Fuchigami has declined to offer specifics on that. Also, what needs to be updated, exactly? No specifics have surfaced. DPS Director Nolan Espinda has said little, other than to allude to proposed “operational, legal and personnel-related improvements” that meet DOT requirements.
For the sake of maintaining public confidence in airport security, better transparency must be folded into talks pertaining to whether Sheriff’s deputies will remain on-site.
State Sen. Will Espero has questioned whether the DOT’s move is payback for a lawsuit filed last year by the sheriffs’ union to block the state’s new contract with a private airport security firm, Securitas. The firm first landed an Oahu and Hawaii County contract in 2004, followed, three years later, by Maui and Kauai contracts.
Last summer the state awarded Securitas a three-year, $130 million contract for security at all Hawaii airports.
Sheriff’s deputies are posted only at the Honolulu airport. Why? Cost. In this case, the state estimated that hiring deputies for posts at airports statewide would have cost another $6 million a year due, in part, to overtime and other benefits.
The Hawaii Government Employees Association, meanwhile, is questioning whether private security guards are qualified or legally authorized to have police powers. The union contends that, over the years, the DOT has allowed Securitas to expand its role. Particularly worrisome is the lawsuit’s assertion that the Honolulu airport is the only facility within the Federal Aviation Administration’s “Category X” high-volume grouping that allows privately contracted personnel to provide first-responder “law enforcement and policing services.”
A total of nearly 300 Securitas officers work at the Honolulu airport during any 24-hour stretch. The contractor’s overall staff includes 72 armed Securitas law enforcement officers, who can issue citations and make arrests while on state airport property.
Among their current job requirements: Two years of professional experience as a law enforcement officer after graduating from a bona-
fide law enforcement or military academy in the U.S. They’re also required to undergo semi-annual firearms re-certification and a live fire training program “consistent with local law enforcement agency standards” to carry a 9mm handgun. Whether such requirements are adequate for handling security issues that can surface at the Honolulu airport is a concerning question.
Hawaii is on pace to mark a record-breaking tourism year, with
9 million visitors expected in the islands. Most will pass through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Over the next several months, as DOT and and DPS officials attempt to piece together a new agreement, both agencies owe the public a candid assessment of any proposal to update the scope of responsibilities tied to airport security and division of labor.