Policing the Aerotropolis: A Model for Securing the Nation’s Large Airports

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Joshua Cousins

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The concept of the airport city was developed in the early 1990s, sparking the term “aerotropolis” to define the major metropolitan growth of airports around the world.[1] Today, several airports in the United States have expanded into major metropolitan areas in their own right and an emerging dichotomy exists within these aerotropoli involving the importance of the passenger terminal areas considered critical infrastructure versus the surrounding business complexes that are still airport property but are not considered as critical in nature. Airport police are federally mandated to provide an adequate police presence in the terminal areas and critical infrastructure of the airport.[2] How do these law enforcement agencies balance the requirement of security the terminals with the necessity of protecting the other metropolitan areas of the airports? Are current policing models effective in ensuring the entire airport remains safe and secure or is a new policing model needed designed specifically for the aerotropolis?

The purpose of this research is to gather qualitative data regarding the growing trend of the aerotropolis and the concepts involved in policing these major airports in terms of federal mandates, enforcement challenges, and policing models with the intent to identify effective strategies to balance the policing needs of the aerotropolis better. Academic research specific to airport law enforcement and policing models used at major international airports is noticeably lacking. Much of the research available pertains to security measures employed by the Transportation Security Administration and does not mention local airport police agencies. Due to this lack of specified research material, a comparative case study was used to analyze policing methods utilized by airport police at three major international airports. Each one of these airports represents one of the three major types of airport policing seen at airports in the United States. Members of police agency command staff from each airport were interviewed to discover key similarities and differences in policing methods between the three. The airports used in the study were Boston Logan International Airport (state police), Denver International Airport (local municipal police), and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (airport police).

The findings of the research and comparative case study show that the aviation industry is continuing to grow, which has resulted in airports expanding with new commercial development and larger footprints.[3] Policing these large airports comes with unique challenges not seen in traditional forms of metropolitan policing. The transient nature of the populations equates to a lack of a static community base and an increase in crime making it difficult to use community oriented and data driven policing methods to lower crime rates.[4] All three primary types of policing used at major airports are experiencing the same challenges in rising population and crime rates, resource management issues, and employing effective policing methods.[5] The major finding from the interviews is airport policing must become more proactive and less reactive if it is to be successful in preventing and reducing crime.

Current models of policing have been established and tested for many decades in metropolitan policing. These models meet different needs and are employed based on the environment being policed. However, these models were centered on policing traditional static and well-established populations. Airport police officers face the challenge of providing public safety to a highly transient and fleeting population in an environment that does not react well to change or disruption. Policing models must be adapted to be effective in providing safety and security to these populations of strangers in such a unique environment.

This thesis offered the following recommendations for adapting and modeling a policing approach specific to major airports:

  • The Balancing Act: Currently, airport policing is focused on protecting the terminals and areas with greatest economic impact and attractiveness to crime and terrorism. As these airports continue to grow and diversify, focus must shift outward to encompass the protection of surrounding business districts. Many of the tactics used in the central terminal areas can be modified to conduct campus-style policing efforts aimed at policing the entire airport environment.
  • Identify the Community: Gaining community engagement from a transient population is difficult. Airport employees and stakeholders are the most stable and unchanging population on the airport. Engaging the employee populous to have a sense of ownership in the safety and security of the airport through community-oriented policing programs can be an effective force multiplier in keeping the airport safe and operational. The philosophy of policing as a service to the community can also be used to shift community-oriented policing concepts back on the officers. The officers should consider the airport as their community with the responsibility to protect it and serve as its guardian.
  • Proactive Detection and Deterrence: Active patrolling, reassurance policing, and high-visibility activity are essential in hardening the airport against potential crime and terrorism. While traditional metropolitan policing is often reactive in nature, airport police typically have more discretionary time to commit to self-initiated activity. That activity should be in proactive policing measures aimed at crime reduction and prevention.

These recommendations serve as guidance in providing a more effective policing model specific to the aerotropolis, which maintains a proactive approach to airport law enforcement methods with airport-specific training, high-visibility deterrence, and an emphasis on officer presence. However, the airport environment encompasses more than just being seen. Airport police must provide reassurance policing within the terminals and other high-value target areas to deter threats while also maintaining a more customer-oriented approach to not impact the business aspect of the airport negatively. While difficult at times, airport police must find a fine balance between business and convenience with that of public safety and security.[6] As aerotropoli adapt and grow, aerotropolis policing must adapt and grow with them. The future of air travel depends on it.

As long as air travel is the quickest and most efficient form of global transportation, these airports will keep growing and continue to have a major economic impact on the people and regions they serve. Airport policing is essential to ensuring the protection and safety of the airport environment and the traveling public.[7] Having an effective policing model specific to airport law enforcement is vital to maintaining order, resiliency, and continuity of operations to keep the aviation industry running smoothly. In other words, an adequate, well-equipped, and well-guided police force dedicated to providing safety and security at our nation’s major airports is necessary.[8]

 

 

[1] John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsey, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 8.

[2] “Transportation,” Department of Transportation, Code of Federal Regulations, title 49 (1994 comp.): 1500, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=d8c792fadd66fafeb6c35959ed0e2a3e&mc=true&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title49/49cfrv9_02.tpl#1500.

[3] Stephen J. Appold and John D. Kasarda, “The Airport City Phenomenon: Evidence from Large U.S. Airports,” Urban Studies 50, no. 6 (May 2013): 1239–59, https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098012464401.

[4] Stephen Jarrell and Roy M. Howsen, “Transient Crowding and Crime: The More ‘Strangers’ in an Area, the More Crime Except for Murder, Assault and Rape,” American Journal of Economics & Sociology 49, no. 4 (October 1990): 483–94, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1536-7150.1990.tb02476.x.

[5] This information was obtained during interviews with police agency command staff from Boston Logan International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and Denver International Airport.

[6] Robert P. Mark, “Airport Security: The Great Balancing Act,” Airport Business, December 2013, 17.

[7] Heather Monteiro, Models for Law Enforcement at Airports: A Synthesis of Airport Practice (Las Vegas, NV: Airport Cooperative Research Program, 2020), 2.

[8] Monteiro, 2.

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