SRQ Police Department boosts security, prepares for active shooters

If travelers at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport see an officer armed with an assault rifle and a tactical vest, they needn’t be alarmed. The specially armed guards are now regular protocol at Manatee County’s airport.

Last week, the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority Police Department received a three-year accreditation from the Commission of Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation for the first time. The accreditation, which took about two years to prepare for, had “a couple hundred” requirements the airport police had to meet, including several mock exercises, drills and demonstration of an exemplary program, according to airport President Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo.

SRQ Police Chief James Carlino seized the exemplary program as an opportunity to respond to the security threats faced by airports, workplaces, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and nightclubs. After the December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, Piccolo said the airport assembled a task force to examine and scrutinize the airport’s security, safety processes and equipment. The result was a roughly $250,000 investment into additional firearms, training and capital improvements in the name of preparation and safety.

The program is anchored by deployment of a tactical or fast-response officer during peak travel times. The officer is on foot patrol in common airport areas with body armor and a semi-automatic rifle.

“If an active shooter event occurs he will respond fast and confront the threat immediately,” according to an SRQ release. “This will save time and lives, at the same time acting as a deterrent for someone planning a possible attack on our airport.”

Other security measures added to SRQ post-San Bernadino:

  • Hardening of the terminal front with blast film on all glass
  • Installation of bollards at all doorways
  • Addition of security cameras in the terminal, bringing the total to more than 115
  • Closed-captioning TV in the police department office to monitor all cameras
  • Virtual fence around parking lot with movement-activated cameras
  • Conducting more firearms training than required by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, including rifle and shotgun training
  • Purchasing other tactical protective equipment (shields, helmets, rifles) and stored around the airport in locked cabinets
  • Active shooter training conducted by Carlino for all employees and tenants at the airport
  • Joint familiarization exercises held with local SWAT team from the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Transportation Security Administration partners

Source: SRQ release

Carlino said officers at SRQ undergo more firearms training than what is required by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, both in terms of time spent training and use of weapons. FDLE requires officers to shoot at least once in a two-year cycle, but Carlino gives SRQ Police Department officers the opportunity to shoot every six months, which he believes is necessary for proper use of firearms. SRQ officers also have the opportunity to train with rifles and shotguns. FDLE only requires officers to train and shoot with pistols.

“We sent a guy to the National Rifle Association rifle school to write our courses,” Carlino said of SRQ’s rifle training course. “It’s up to the agency to come up with their own rifle and shotgun (training).”

Although they were already pursuing the accreditation before choosing to boost other security measures, Piccolo believes the accreditation fortifies the airport’s ability to deter terrorists.

“A number of agencies in the community have done it (been accredited),” Piccolo said. “Our police chief (Carlino) brought it to our attention. The accreditation is another step in showing we have a professional department and a capable department. Therefore, anyone who gives thought to do something here looks elsewhere because we're as ready as we can be.”

The accreditation, including commission fees and all other expenses, cost SRQ about $2,000, Piccolo said. Accreditation costs are based on the number of sworn officers in the law enforcement agency. SRQ Police has 11 full-time and six part-time officers, in addition to 20 civilian traffic specialists.

The Sarasota County Sheriff and Manatee County Sheriff offices are also accredited by the same commission. The City of Bradenton is not currently accredited.

The commission, an independent organization, evaluates law enforcement agencies for compliance with its standards, including categories of organization, use of force, investigations and public information. The standards that SRQ Police were evaluated under can be viewed online on the commission’s website.

Evaluation staff from the Commission of Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation visited SRQ from April 19 to April 21 to assess SRQ Police’s “policies, procedures, management, operations and services,” according to the airport. To be keep the accreditation, SRQ Police will be re-evaluated in June 2017.

The accreditation and investment in better security and preparation for an active shooter situation was a no-brainer for Carlino, who’s been at SRQ for eight years.

“If you have the money, spend it to keep people safer,” Carlino said. “Why hang onto it?”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday