D/FW Airport Leaders Defend Security Strategy After Records Show “Insufficient” Police Staffing

Internal Airport Documents Show TSA Found 30 Security Violations at D/FW in Three Months

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport leaders said Thursday they were confident the airport has enough police officers to protect the public, despite airport staffing documents describing police staffing “insufficient” to deal with threats.

The records, obtained through an open records requests, were first reported Wednesday in an NBC 5 Investigation.

Speaking after am airport board meeting Thursday, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he had never seen the staffing plan that details a lack of officers. Rawlings is a member of the airport’s board of directors.

Still, Rawlings said he has no concerns about the number of police protecting the airport.

“I am confident that our CEO knows what he's doing on this,” said Rawlings.

A recent airport police strategy document shows even a five-year plan to add more than two dozen police and three dozen security guards would still leave D/FW with fewer police patrolling terminals and curbside areas than at other major airports.

Security experts say visible officers are one of the best deterrents against terrorism.

“It gives that person who wants to do harm pause. It says, 'Wait a minute, A: am I going to be discovered before I can carry out mission? Or, B: if I am discovered are they going to be able to stop me?'” said LaPonda Fitchpatrick, a former Los Angeles police commander who was in charge of staffing at Los Angeles International Airport.

At the meeting, D/FW CEO, Sean Donohue told NBC 5 Investigates the airport is constantly evaluating staffing along with federal agencies at the airport but he would not say if he plans to step up the pace of hiring police.

“A third of my employees at the airport are in the department of public safety so we are always looking at it. Obviously it’s our top priority and we will continue to look at it,” Donohue said.

While the airport has 600 public safety employees, payroll records show only about 175 of those employees are police officers and 100 are security guards. The Department of Public Safety also includes D/FW’s fire department.

Airport documents obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show on most shifts just 12 uniformed officers are assigned to patrol the five terminal buildings at D/FW. The airport’s international terminal alone is 2 million square feet.

The records also show police response times at the airport are lagging a minute and 15 seconds slower than 10 years ago.

When asked if that seemed to indicate a need for more police Rawlings responded, “You could argue that. I mean lots of people can argue each of these points. Our budget is so big. We’ve got to allocate a certain amount.”

“Security is not cheap but what’s really not cheap is if there’s an attack,” said airport security expert, Jeff Price.

Price said the slower response times combined with police requests for help deserve attention.

“When you have the police themselves saying you don’t have enough cops that’s a person you really need to listen to at that point,” said Price.

Airport official insist they are listening and police have what they need.

“And we feel confident with our security plan,” said Donohue.

“I think good diligence has been looked at this process. Best practices have been played and right now I’m in a pretty good situation,” said Rawlings.

The staffing plan obtained by NBC 5 also says the Transportation Security Administration sent the airport three notices in three months noting more than 30 security violations.

D/FW and the TSA would not release the specifics of those violations, saying that is security sensitive information.

The TSA does not require airports to have a certain number of police, only that they have enough police to respond to threats in a reasonable amount of time. 

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