The Juneau Airport is scrambling to respond to a federal order directing it to provide a law enforcement officer at its passenger screening checkpoint.
The new federal Transportation Security Administration issued a directive last week mandating that airports nationwide with commercial air service provide sworn, deputized police officers at security checkpoints. The officers will replace the National Guard until federal law enforcement officers are hired, according to TSA spokesman Paul Turk.
"It's up to the airport to decide where it gets these police officers," he said. "Sworn means they're authorized to carry weapons and make arrests. The duties do not include screening passengers. They'll provide normal police functions and provide security for passengers, crews and airport workers."
The TSA will pay salary and benefits for the officers under a negotiated agreement, Turk said.
But Juneau City Manager Dave Palmer said the requirement is unworkable for communities such as Juneau, Petersburg, Klawock and Wrangell where law enforcement officers are in high demand and difficult to find. It could be months before the TSA hires a new federal security officer for Juneau, he said.
Police Chief Mel Personett said the requirement could take five Juneau Police Department officers from the community's 45-person force and put them at the airport.
"It would eliminate our ability to do anything other than patrol and routine staffing," he said. "If this stretches past this summer, we'd have to assign officers from the school or drug unit."
Palmer said the airport will apply to the TSA for a waiver from the requirement. JPD officers can respond to an incident at the airport in less than 10 minutes, he said. Palmer also sent letters to federal agencies in Juneau on Monday asking if they would provide federal officers to meet the new requirement.
Juneau would need one law enforcement officer on duty whenever the checkpoint is open, but several people would be needed to fill the schedule, Airport Manager Allan Heese said. The chances are "slim" that a waiver will be granted, he said.
"It's a fast-moving thing. We're continually talking with various people, trying to get answers," he said.
National Guard troops stationed at the Juneau Airport are scheduled to leave by May 10, according to Alaska National Guard spokesman and Staff Sgt. Jeff Wells. A total of 111 National Guard personnel have been stationed at Alaska's airports to assist with security, including 15 in Juneau, Wells said.
"We're looking at three increments. The prediction right now is we'll have everyone out of the airports by the end of May in Alaska," he said. "Originally the plan was for the National Guard to bolster security until a federal agency could take over."
In other Juneau Airport news, construction has started on a new rest room inside the security screening area and should be complete in a few weeks, Heese said.
The airport also hopes to open the short-term parking lot in the next couple of weeks, he said. Vehicles that enter the short-term lot will be searched and will have to pay a $2 surcharge to cover personnel and construction costs, Heese said.
"We're trying to divide the taxi queueing area from the parking area. We're getting close to having the parking lot back," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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