Feb. 23--The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which took over aviation security in December, wants to boost security staff by nearly one-third to 62 officers -- a move the airport director opposes because of the added cost.
Since taking over at the airport, the police department said it is being more aggressive in investigating crime, and the number of reported crimes has doubled. CMPD said it is focusing thefts at Transportation Security Administration Security lines and by airline contract workers who steal items passengers leave on airplanes.
Under the plan, Charlotte Douglas International Airport's police costs would rise to $5.5 million, which includes equipment and other costs, according to the airport's budget. That's up from the $2.6 million spent in fiscal 2012, when the airport had 41 officers.
Aviation director Jerry Orr said he opposes the increases because the added cost is passed on to the airlines. Some Charlotte officials argue that the city decision to switch to CMPD was correct, and that airport security is now more effective.
The tension highlights the ongoing struggle to control Charlotte's airport. The General Assembly is considering a bill that would transfer control of Charlotte Douglas away from city government to an appointed authority.
The city is trying to show legislators and the community that it has helped the aviation department run Charlotte Douglas, which is now the nation's sixth-busiest airport based on takeoffs and landings.
Increase in reported crimes
Under the bill filed by state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican, the new authority would be able to hire its own police force, giving it the power to take law enforcement supervision back from the city. Other airport authorities in North Carolina operate their own police forces.
The biggest increase in reported crimes has been in larcenies, according to the police memo. CMPD said the jump is due to the department taking a "proactive enforcement strategy" that's more likely to catch criminals.
But Orr told the Observer on Friday he doesn't think the airport needs to hire any more police.
"I don't support that," he said. One reason, he said, is that the airlines ultimately pay for the cost of a larger police force through higher user fees, which they ultimately pass on to passengers.
"All of that cost is being reimbursed," he said. "The more people you have, the higher the cost."
The decision by former City Manager Curt Walton to put CMPD in charge of airport security in November upset Orr, who alreadywas concerned that Walton was exerting too much influence over the airport. Orr has historically run the airport with little outside control.
Orr has said in past interviews that the airport could benefit from being run by an authority.
Asked Friday whether the police force was doing a good job before it was integrated into CMPD, Orr said: "Of course they were. Absolutely."
Orr said he doesn't know why the crime numbers increased.
"I haven't really looked at it. It could have been any number of things," he said.
CMPD has been in control at the airport for only two months, which isn't a large amount of time to analyze long-term trends. It's possible that the increase in larcenies is the result of more crime, not aggressive policing.
But City Council member David Howard said the city's decision to switch security to CMPD is an example of why the airport should stay under its control.
"We don't just want to be the most efficient, lowest-cost airport," Howard said. "We want to be the safest."
The officers who work at Charlotte Douglas haven't changed since the takeover. But instead of reporting to the airport, the officers are now part of CMPD's chain of command. The officers' dispatching and communications have been transferred from the airport to CMPD's communications center.
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