N. Guard out, forcing cops to guard airport | AspenTimes.com

N. Guard out, forcing cops to guard airport

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Soldiers from the National Guard are preparing to leave the nation’s airports by May 31, and in Aspen the security slack is expected to be picked up by Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies.

And that could mean there will be one-third fewer deputies out responding to service calls in the community.

“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working to put civilians out there, and they have said they won’t need the National Guard past the 31st of May,” said 1st Lt. Holly Peterson, state public affairs officer for the Colorado National Guard.

The TSA is a new federal agency created by President Bush after Sept. 11. It’s part of the Department of Transportation and is now responsible for the security of the nation’s airports.

However, the TSA is currently not able to provide security personnel at most airports and doesn’t expect to for about a year.

The National Guard presence at the Aspen Airport will be reduced this weekend from nine armed soldiers to six, said Ray Krebs, assistant airport director. By the end of May, the Guard is expected to pack up its automatic weapons and its Hummer and leave the valley.

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Krebs said a request will be made to Colorado Gov. Bill Owens to extend the Guard’s tour of duty past May 31. But he is currently working with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office on a plan for local law enforcement officers to be stationed at the airport.

To meet the new TSA standards, only one armed, fully licensed law enforcement officer will need to be posted at the single security checkpoint at the Aspen Airport.

But for the Sheriff’s Office, that’s one less deputy on the streets during the 16 hours the airport is open. And since there are only three deputies on duty at a time, that cuts the sheriff’s presence on the streets by one-third.

“Public safety is going to be compromised,” said Tom Grady, director of operations at the Sheriff’s Office. “We are going to have to decrease our response to calls for service. We will find a way to make it work, but ultimately the citizens will get less service.”

Grady said the two eight-hour shifts at the airport will require at least three more deputies to be hired, but given that the airport duty is temporary, it will be hard to find qualified people interested in taking on the job.

“In this community, physical bodies are the real issue,” Grady said.

While it is possible, and likely, that local police officers from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt will be asked to take on extra duty as airport security, Grady said that prior experience has shown that won’t work for long.

“We can sustain it for about six weeks,” Grady said. “That’s what we learned at Desert Storm, and then everybody is burned out.”

Grady said that local officers might at first enjoy the extra pay that will come with working for the federal government, but after six weeks, people begin to miss their days off with their families.

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