Mixed feelings greet guard change
By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Steven Anderson thought there must have been a major terrorist development at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday.
Anderson, a student from Miami, gaped at several dozen Tampa police officers, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies and fully armed National Guard troops milling around the Landside terminal and asked, "Who'd they catch? Bin Laden?"
Nothing quite so momentous. The time had come for local law enforcement to take over TIA checkpoint security from the Guard, nearly eight months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The arriving and departing forces amassed in strength for the occasion.
"Oh, is that all?" Anderson said. "Bummer."
The transition, which will take the rest of the week to complete, was a mixed bag for everyone, it seemed. Some of the local officers indicated they would prefer street duty. The Guard troops weren't champing at the bit to depart. And passengers weren't certain how they felt about regular police with sidearms replacing military uniforms and automatic weapons.
"We're already letting our guard down," said Jill Sullivan of Providence, R.I., as she waited to pass through the checkpoint at Airside F. "We're slipping back to the way it used to be. We got all hyped up about security for a little while, and now it's done."
Sharon Flaherty, who was traveling with Sullivan, thought at first that she felt the same way.
"I think with the National Guard I felt a little more secure," Flaherty said.
But when told that the National Guard never had arrest powers, and that local law enforcement officers do, she laughed and added, "Then I retract what I just said."
On the other hand, Jerry Ray of Centralia, Ill., said the change was fine with him.
"As long as they're fully trained and real cops, no problem," Ray said. "I don't want any fake cops, but the real article? That's great. They can strip search me right now."
The new officers are definitely not fakes. They were picked for airport duty in part for their experience. Yet several noted that their overall forces already are depleted, in part due to reservists called up for duty in Afghanistan. They said that adding airport security to their assignments will spread them even thinner.
Katie Hughes, spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department, dismissed the problem.
"Yes, this does involve taking officers off the street," Hughes said. "We're doing what we have to do for national security. No whining permitted."
For now, 10 Hillsborough deputies and 10 Tampa police officers will take over checkpoint security at TIA's four airsides for the 21 hours a day the airport is in operation. They will be relieved by airport police officers for meals and breaks.
By Nov. 1, TIA will have added 10 new officers to its force, and the city and county involvement will be cut in half.
By the end of 2003, the federal Transportation Security Administration expects to have trained a force of 9,000 federal police officers to take over the security work at the nation's 429 commercial airports.
The federal government will reimburse the costs of using local law enforcement. At TIA, that tab is expected to be $1.9-million over the next 20 months.
Meanwhile, the Guard troops stationed at the airport will go home and return to their civilian jobs.
"I'm going back to cable TV repair," said Sgt. Todd Westmoreland of Palatka. "It's been a pleasure to serve the community."
Lt. Kurtis Marsh, an electrician from Tampa, said the best memories of his two months on duty at the airport is the reaction of the public.
"Their appreciation of us, of what we were doing, that's what made it all worthwhile," Marsh said. "This has been a successful mission for us, and I'm happy to have been a part of it."
Asked whether it has been boring, Marsh said, "It's been nice and quiet. Probably better than being on active duty."
Lt. Joan Dias, who will supervise some of the Tampa police officers on airport duty, said she expected the hardest part for them will be standing on their feet for a full shift.
"It will take some getting used to for our officers," Dias said. "The standing will be the hardest part. Our officers are used to getting in and out of cars all day. And this won't be nearly as exciting as being on the street. I hope."
But she said she thinks local law enforcement is appropriate for the job.
"We deal a lot more with the public than the Guard," she said. "So in some respects, we're more suited to this than the Guard. To some extent, they were more suited in the beginning. They've got the uniforms and the big guns.
"I wouldn't mind having some of those guns."
* * *
Government updates carry-on list
The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday issued an updated list of items that passengers may not bring with them onto an airplane.
Items permitted in aircraft cabins
Items prohibited from aircraft cabins
The following items will not be allowed through the security checkpoint. Please note that this list is not all-inclusive. In addition to items specifically listed here, other items that may be deemed to present a potential threat may also be prohibited.
Passengers should be aware that there are no provisions for returning banned items to them when they are left at the security checkpoint. In addition, those who attempt to bring banned items through the checkpoints are subject to civil penalties of up to $1,100 per violation in addition to criminal penalties.
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