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Ackerman wants retired police officers at JFK

A new plan could place retired law enforcement officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport as part of a pilot program to improve security in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, officials said.

The proposal, led by U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport, would replace regular passenger screeners with retired police officers, FBI agents, and other law enforcement officials, said Jordan Goldes, an Ackerman spokesman.

This plan would be implemented in addition to the federal takeover of security at airports, Goldes said. JFK airport will be among the first in the nation to have security run by federal employees, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week. The switch could take place as early as May, they said.

Ackerman hopes that employing retired law enforcement agents will improve airport security and restore travelers’ confidence even further as domestic air travel continues to rebound from the sharp drop that occurred immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“While no security plan is 100 percent, this program is the closest,” Ackerman told a news conference Thursday. “Imagine adding 20 years of experience on top of the new requirements.”

Last week the Port Authority formally asked the Department of Transportation to select JFK as a pilot “Category X” airport under a section of the new Air Transportation Act, which went into effect Feb. 17, Goldes said. The selection would allow the airport to participate in a pilot program to establish its own standards for baggage screeners, which could include requiring a law enforcement background as a prerequisite, Goldes said.

The act, signed by President George Bush in November, transferred the jurisdiction of airport security from the airlines to the federal government and created the Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency under the DOT responsible for airport security.

Under federal jurisdiction, the standards for passenger screeners are being raised to include requirements such as citizenship and high school equivalency. The new standards automatically exclude about 50 percent of current screeners, or 1,500 to 2,000 employees, Goldes said.

There are nearly four times as many retired police officers and FBI agents interested in participating in the project, he said.

“About 9,000 officers are ready to jump in,” Goldes said. “There’s no question about the availability of officers.”

The officers would take on screening responsibilities, including checking luggage and manning metal detectors, Goldes said.

“These retired officers, each with more than six months of police academy training, plus a minimum of 20 years of law enforcement experience, are excellent candidates for the screening role,” said Port Authority CEO Ernesto Butcher.

JFK management is eager to implement the program, said General Manager Al Grasser.

“We highly endorse this program,” he said. “We hope it can become a reality.”

The program is being reviewed by the DOT, but Goldes said he is not sure when it would be put in place should it gain approval.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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