New security regime for Oakland airport

On the heels of its third apparent breach of security this year, Oakland International Airport was set today to lose one police force that secures its passenger terminals and gain another.

After midnight, 10 of the Oakland Police Department's contingent of 15 officers and supervisors who work inside Terminals 1 and 2 were to leave their airport jobs to be replaced by 10 Alameda County sheriff's deputies and supervisors.

Four Oakland officers and one sergeant will remain behind to train a new corps of sheriff's office bomb-sniffing dog handlers. They will remain until the new dog handlers are certified by the federal Transportation Security Administration, a process that takes six to nine months. The end of decades of Oakland police presence at the airport was announced June 20 by Oakland city officials as a way to put more cops on the beat in crime-plagued city neighborhoods.

The transition should be smoothed by the fact that the Sheriff's Office already has 20 of its own providing security outside the terminals.

"I'm very positive about it," said Steve Grossman, aviation director for the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport. While "things worked very well" with both agencies working with the federal Transportation Security Administration and private airport security guards, "there are some benefits in going to one agency." Among those benefits, Grossman said, are better communication and a simplified command structure.

"It's nothing that the public will see," Grossman said. "The public will continue to see a safe and secure facility, but behind the scenes, the administration will become easier."

While the city will be losing a $5 million-a-year contract, the Sheriff's Office will be boosting its contract from about $9 million to $13 million to $14 million, Grossman estimated.

"Ultimately, we're going to save a little bit of money, because we won't have to duplicate command staff," Grossman said. In addition, "the deputies are paid a little less than the outgoing officers."

The Sheriff's Office will have to stretch its manpower at first, said Sgt. J.D. Nelson, spokesman for Sheriff Gregory Ahern. The airport will be contracting for 16 positions, but will fill them with 10 new officers and supervisors, and others will fill in the remaining hours with overtime. As cadets from the agency's academy graduate, the additional positions will be filled.

"We look forward to the new challenge. Like any other contract we have, we're going to do it the best that we can," Nelson said.

"We're going to make sure that anyone who flies in or out of Oakland is safe,"

He said the agency will review security procedures "with a fresh eye," especially in light of this year's breaches.

"We may go in there and see that everything is perfect and needs no improvement or we may see some minor changes to adapt to our agency and our style," Nelson said.

Critics of the airport's handling of such incidents have faulted airport management for being slow to install technology to help law enforcement prevent breaches and track down intruders.

Oakland Police Lt. Ed Paulson, who supervised the Oakland police contingent at the terminal, said his officers didn't worry about such things and did the best possible job with the tools available.

"I think my officers did an excellent job," he said, "as most Oakland Police officers do."