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Charlotte could scale back airport police force

The city of Charlotte is reviewing the size and cost of its police presence at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, which has been a contentious issue in the fight over whether the airport should be run by the city or transferred to an authority.

The result could be fewer officers, resulting in a smaller security bill for US Airways and other airlines.

In November, the City Council voted to shift Charlotte Douglas security from airport control to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department – a change the city said was needed in light of the Delvonte Tisdale tragedy.

Tisdale, a Mecklenburg teenager, is believed by law enforcement to have breached airport security in November 2010 and climbed inside the wheel well of a Boston-bound US Airways jet. Tisdale’s mangled body was found near Boston Logan Airport, along the path where jets land.

The shift to CMPD increased police costs from $2.6 million annually before the transition to $5.5 million. CMPD has plans to increase staffing from 41 to 62 officers.

City Manager Ron Carlee said Thursday he is reviewing staffing levels and costs to see what’s best for the airport.

“With regard to police, this review would include roles and responsibilities, alternative approaches, and costs,” Carlee said in an email Friday. “This could result in a decreased role in CMPD.”

He said CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe is open to the discussion.

Monroe has said in memos that the airport was previously understaffed and that CMPD was needed to bring security in line with other so-called Category X airports, the nation’s largest.

But the transfer and increased costs upset aviation director Jerry Orr, who called the switch a “debacle” in one email. Orr believes that security was effective when under airport control, and that CMPD is adding unnecessary costs to the airport.

US Airways has also been concerned about the added costs, which are ultimately paid by the airlines that use Charlotte Douglas.

Carlee added: “There was conflict in the initial shift in responsibility to CMPD. I want to be assured that line-level operations are functioning at a high level.”

Shortly after CMPD took control of airport police in December, a bill was introduced in the N.C. General Assembly that would transfer control of the airport to an independent authority. The city has been vigorously fighting the bill, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting consideration in the N.C. House.

Orr has said publicly that he believes an authority is the best way to manage Charlotte Douglas. Under the bill being considered in the legislature, the authority would be able to hire its own police force.

Since becoming manager April 1, Carlee has tried to walk a tightrope in order to keep the airport under city control, or at least improve the bill under consideration.

Carlee said he has spoken with US Airways “daily” and has reassured the airline that it will play a large role in picking Orr’s successor.

Some council members were angry over Orr’s public support for an authority, and reportedly urged the manager to discipline Orr. Carlee has so far pushed back, urging restraint.

In reviewing airport security, Carlee appears to be working again to ease the concerns of Orr and authority supporters.

The city, however, has argued that CMPD has been crucial to improving airport security. In April it released a letter from the Department of Homeland Security, which praised the switch.

In a March 18 letter to Monroe, Delbert Richburg, an assistant special agent at Homeland Security, said his organization was “delighted” when he learned in 2012 that CMPD would be taking over security and that it has “not been disappointed.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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