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Security personnel may be replaced at airport

By Carole-Anne Elliott, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday October 20, 2001

As the Port of Oakland wrangles over whether to replace a private security firm at Oakland International Airport with law enforcement personnel, flight attendants and pilots arriving at the airport Thursday said they would be happy to see the government step in. 

“Anybody but regular people,” said Continental Airlines flight attendant Amanda Connelly. “I don’t think that they’re qualified and they pay some of them only minimum wage.” 

The Board of Port Commissioners on Tuesday postponed a decision on whether Oakland Police or Alameda County Sheriff’s Department personnel should take over functions now performed by ABC Security Service, Inc., of Oakland. ABC staff control traffic outside the airport’s two terminals and oversee security at vehicle entry gates. 

Recent news reports have highlighted security lapses at the airport. After the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, the Federal Aviation Administration put all airports on heightened alert and warned it would close airports if security breaches were found. 

“Because Sept. 11 happened, we have to look for ways to bring in a more professional level of security to the airport,” said airport spokesperson Cyndy Johnson. 

According to Port of Oakland aviation director Steve Grossman, non-sworn officers or para-professional employees of either the Oakland Police Department or the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department – or both – would take on the role now occupied by ABC staff. They would not be full-fledged police officers or sheriff’s deputies, Grossman said. They would be better trained, supervised by police or sheriff’s deputies, and paid more, “so the turnover would be less.” 

Most flight attendants and pilots interviewed asked not to be named, but said they thought upgrading private security staff was a good idea.  

“The background checks are much more thorough to be a police officer,” said one female attendant for Alaska Airlines. 

“Just look at how it is in foreign countries,” said Continental flight attendant Tiffany Allan, just off her second trip after the attacks.  

“Every single thing that goes into that airport and out is checked,” she said of the Tel Aviv Airport. Security is “very much on my mind. I’m about to quit, actually.” 

A one-year ABC employee hailing shuttles outside Terminal 1 volunteered information on his firm.  

“It’s just very unprofessional, the stuff that goes on here,” he said. “Just watch them,” he added, nodding to other security officers across the driveway. “They don’t really do a lot of things. They’re just talking.”  

He said he makes $10 per hour, not the $14 per hour he was promised when he was hired, and the company does not pay on time. 

Not everyone flying that morning thought replacing private security with law enforcement would do any good. An Alaska Airlines pilot awaiting his hotel shuttle said a police or sheriff employee controlling traffic would not do anything different from that which a private company employee does. 

While outside security personnel are being eyed, port officials are ignoring the security screening staff at passenger gates, the people who X-ray carry-on bags. They are hired and supervised by airlines, a practice that may soon be changed by legislation moving through Congress. 

But Jeff Zack, spokesman for the Association of Flight Attendants in Washington, D.C., said changing security screening staff is his organization’s biggest priority.  

“The current system, which is private firms, has been failing,” Zack said. “Anybody can take advantage of the system that’s in place. Terrorists have already shown that.” 

Zack said his association wants security screeners to be trained and employed by the federal Department of Justice, but improving just one aspect of airport security is unacceptable.  

“What the flight attendants are saying is, you can’t just plug one hole or two holes,” he said. “You need to plug them all.”