Airport police take proactive stance with customer service
By Jordanna Smida, Associate editor
DETROIT, MI — As Wayne County's Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) grows, servicing more than 34 million passengers a year, its airport police force has adjusted its policing philosophy to include diversity training and interpersonal communication programs to increase customer service.
Under FAR Part 107, DTW is required to have police enforcement. The airport police force provides 24-hour law enforcement service for the airport.
The force used to a member of the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, but in April 1993 it branched off into its own force. According to Thomas Schmidtke, chief of police, DTW airport police, since the airport and airlines fund the department's services, they wanted to keep the resources on the airport. "So, it was really a necessity that we separate so we can take the resources and focus strictly on providing law enforcement services at the airport," he states.
Among the responsibilities of the airport police force it patrols airport perimeters, oversees checkpoints, and manages traffic flow. However, as DTW grows, the force has found that communication and customer service are playing a greater role in policing.
Increasing Customer service
Since its last infrastructure change in 1971, the airport has grown dramatically, Schmidtke says. At that time it was handling 6.5 to 7 million passengers a year. In 1999 that figure has grown to nearly 34 million passengers a year. "It forced us to look at how we police, how we move traffic, and how we shift from more of a traffic enforcement to a traffic management philosophy," Schmidtke explains.
As a result, the airport became very proactive in customer service, providing the officers with programs in cultural diversity and verbal communication. Schmidtke says, "It became a necessity because of the number of passengers that travel through this airport with vehicles."
As passenger numbers rose and airport traffic increased, the force began to look at how it traditionally policed, specifically as it was writing nearly 20,000 tickets a year. Schmidtke explains, "To issue a ticket and tow a vehicle was really counter-productive when you're trying to work within an airport that is antiquated. The time it would take me to write a ticket and tow a vehicle, I'm not in the street moving traffic."
As a result, the force initiated a program with what Schmidtke calls a 10/20 rule aimed at changing officers' time rule. This meant that an officer had to allow 10 minutes before ticketing a vehicle and 20 minutes before it was towed.
The force is supported through revenues from passenger facility charges and other airport revenue streams. The revenues for any tickets issued at the airport go to the 34th districts court, Schmidtke says. "If I take away the incentive to write tickets, it gets them thinking in the right frame of mind," he says.
The force also worked with the airport to reconfigure the North lower area of the ground transportation area to open the roadway for travelers to load and unload. According to Schmidtke, this six-month project reduced citizen complaints by 90 percent. He says, "Complaints dropped simply because we were making them do something they didn't want to do. When you put so many people in a small space, there's going to be friction... When we moved the commercial traffic it relieved curb space.
"We worked hard at training for interpersonal skills and looked at cultural diversity because you're dealing with people from all different ethnicities and you may say something to offend someone and never realize it. Those things coupled with the reconfiguration had the biggest impact on the service delivered by law enforcement."
The TSA is bringing six bomb-detection dogs to help secure transportation facilities around the state.
CHANGING THE SECURITY FOCUS A look at changes in airport security at MSP, Quad City Int’l By Lindsay M. Hitch, Assistant Editor November/December 2001 Mike Haney, director of...