Interpersonal Communication

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Airport police take proactive stance with customer service By Jordanna Smida, Associate editor August 2000 DETROIT, MI — As Wayne County's Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) grows, servicing more than 34...

The DTW airport police force draws its staff from the Sheriff's Depart-ment through a collective bargaining agreement, Schmidtke says. A percentage of the force's staff are deputized U.S. Marshals in order to eliminate gray areas that may arise when a crime is committed in the air, Schmidtke says. "As long as some of your command staff are deputized as U.S. Marshals then all the officers are working in conjunction with you and now assume your jurisdiction."

For the first five weeks, new officers on the force participate in a field training program to familiarize them with the regulations of the airport. "We want them to learn about these regulations and about the requirements of traveling in and about an airport and to learn about the federal laws," Schmidtke states.

Training occurs throughout the year two days a week at DTW for the force and includes updates for first aid and specialty training. "Dollar for dollar, we probably train more than any law enforcement agency in the state of Michigan," Schmidtke says.

The force also has a K-9 unit, made up of eight dogs, which it receives from the Air Force's training program through a contract with the FAA. Annually, the dogs are required to go through K-9 evaluations by the Air Force, which requires active dogs to have a 90 percent proficiency, Schmidtke states.

Through grant programming, DTW also has a Mobile Field Force, designed to train surrounding communities in areas such as emergency response drivers training and precision/pursuit driving. "What we really try to do is share our resources because in one major incident we'd be such a major draw on their resources, we try to pay back to the communities that surround the airport," he says.

Teaming with the Community
One of the most important relationships DTW maintains is with its surrounding communities. There are times where the airport and its surrounding communities rely on each other for assistance, and as a result the DTW airport police force is a member of several mutual aid groups.

DTW is one of 19 Category X airports in the United States, which requires the airport to supply certain levels of services, Schmidtke says. Some of those requirements include having an explosive ordinance force, K-9 sniffing bomb teams, and a special response unit or SWAT team, he explains.

Schmidtke says that in recognizing the noise and congestion of the airport can impose on surrounding communities, the force tries to ease those factors by offering support through equipment and services such as explosive ordinance disposal staff and dogs when needed. "We realize that sometimes airports can be bad neighbors. Where we can, we try to help the communities that surround the area because the equipment in those areas is very expensive... There's a big cost expenditure to those communities and what we do is we share our resources," he states.

This mutual aid relationship has also allowed the airport to utilize resources when in need. A good example, Schmidtke says, was in 1987 when the Northwest Airlines 255 disaster, which resulted in 157 fatalities, occurred at DTW. He says, "We had a large section just northeast of the airport that was a crash scene we had to manage 24-7, which lasted a week and we still had to run an airport. We relied heavily on mutual aid from the surrounding communities. There comes a time where you have to reciprocate. If there was a major incident in another local community, we'd send out a portion of our people."

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