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Thu, May 23

Prescott receives TSA grant for airport security

PRESCOTT - For years, the Prescott Airport has dealt with beefed up security requirements either by tapping existing airport staff to help out, or by summoning police officers to stop by when they can.

That interim scenario should change soon, however, with the June 3 word that Prescott would receive a $467,784 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration to provide a law enforcement presence at the airline terminal.

On Tuesday, the Prescott City Council accepted the grant, setting off what likely will be about a three-month hiring phase by the Prescott Police Department.

Police Chief Randy Oaks said the grant would help to free up the regular patrol officers who stop by for the airport's commercial flights when they can, as well as airport staff members who step in at other times.

"It's been kind of hit or miss," Oaks said Wednesday of the current situation. When officers are not on hand for the flights, Oaks said, "An airport staff member has to be there."

The new stricter security regulations came about after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Because neither the airport nor the police department budget could absorb the cost to have an officer on hand for the flights, Prescott has been operating under temporary alternate procedures which involve using other airport staff members to provide security.

Prescott applied for the TSA grant in late 2008, and just received word this past week of the $467,784 award. Although less than the $664,865 that the city applied for, Oaks told the council, "The TSA could have forced us to have a police officer, at our expense."

Oaks explained that the federal regulations require that one uniformed officer be on hand prior to and after each commercial flight to deal with any emergencies that might arise.

Oaks said the police department asked for 90 days to get the program staffed. In coming months, he plans to focus on finding officers interested in working part-time - perhaps including retired officers who still have their certification.

Oaks estimates that the department would hire four to five officers for about 20 hours per week for a flat hourly rate.

If part-time officers are not available, Oaks said the department would look at hiring one full-time officer, and asking regular officers to fill in, when needed. He noted that a full-time officer would be more expensive, because of the necessary benefits.

The city will receive reimbursement from the TSA at a rate of about $26.70 per hour, Oaks said, of which about $24 per hour would go to the officers, while the remainder would go to expenses such as workers' compensation.

In a memo for the council, Airport Manager Ben Vardiman pointed out that 33 commercial flights per week depart from the Prescott Airport, from 6:45 a.m. to 9:25 p.m.

"Each flight requires a minimum of two hours of presence in the terminal," stated Vardiman's memo.

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