Last year's decision to give Charlotte-Mecklenburg police control of the airport's police led to months of bitter infighting between city officials and the airport -- and drew disapproval from the airport's biggest customer US Airways, emails reviewed by the Observer show.
The loss of the autonomous police force, finalized in December, galled airport officials. Aviation Director Jerry Orr described the switch as a "debacle" in one email. The contentious atmosphere appears to have compromised effectiveness in overall security and resulted in some thefts being inadequately investigated, some emails suggest.
Soon after Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe assumed control of airport police, Orr said in interviews that the airport would benefit from being run by an authority -- free from city control.
In early February, a bill was introduced in the General Assembly that would create a 13-member authority to run Charlotte Douglas, removing it from the city, which has managed it since 1935.
An authority would have complete control of the airport, including the police.
The hundreds of emails between airport officials and police, obtained in a public records request, reveal that both sides have been busy documenting that the other is a poor choice for policing the airport.
Airport officials have compiled complaints about CMPD officers, including allegations of slow response times and photos of groups of officers eating together in the concourse. US Airways, the airport's biggest tenant, has complained about CMPD and the more than 100 percent increase in the cost for officers.
Emails also show that CMPD officials have complained that their effectiveness is hampered by airport policies that block them from some secured doors and deny them access to security cameras.
The bickering surged last fall as the city considered taking control of the airport police.
Last October, after flying through Charlotte Douglas, a Tennessee woman believed that her engagement ring and wedding band had been stolen from her carry-on luggage.
Brenda Roach emailed an airport police officer, asking for help.
The officer, Steve Brown, wrote back, apologetic that he wouldn't be able to investigate.
"Due to 'political' reasons, Aviation Director Jerry Orr and Assistant Aviation Director Herbert Judon, are not allowing the Airport Police to conduct further criminal investigations of this nature at this time," Brown wrote. "They have not given any reason for this recent move. I really wish I could tell you why."
It isn't clear from the emails why airport officers couldn't leave the airport in an attempt to recover stolen property. It's possible they no longer wanted airport police to do work they believed CMPD should handle or would handle in its takeover.
In September, a CMPD captain complained to Orr that preventing airport police from leaving the property could be "construed as obstructing an investigation."
Monroe told the Observer that after he learned about that decision last fall, CMPD told airport officials to change the policy. He said the airport later "overruled those orders and continued to restrict airport law enforcement from going off-site to continue criminal investigations."
Orr didn't respond to Observer questions.
'High school drama'
The dispute over how and whether to investigate Roach's missing jewelry is indicative of months of infighting.
In one email, an airport police officer described some of the squabbles as "a sideshow of high school drama."
After the City Council made the switch, airport officials began complaining about CMPD trying to "backdoor" them to gain access to security cameras, and said that the police under CMPD command were no longer handling important tasks such as traffic control.
At least one airport official believed that the police under CMPD control were slacking off.
In January, an airport spokeswoman surreptitiously photographed five CMPD officers "enjoying a hearty breakfast" in the concourse at 7:30 a.m. and emailed it to other top administrators with the subject, "Couldnt' (sic) believe my eyes..."
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