EXCLUSIVE: Notification delay in potential airport security incident called concerning

EXCLUSIVE: Notification delay in potential airport security incident
Aaron Hunger
Aaron Hunger

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There was a substantial delay in reporting a potential security incident to the lead law enforcement agency at Honolulu International Airport on Tuesday, sources told Hawaii News Now.

The delay comes as security is heightened following terrorist attacks around the world in recent months.

The incident happened amid a growing mistrust between the state Sheriffs Division, the lead law enforcement jurisdiction at the airport, and Securitas, the private company that provides security guards at airports across the state.

Sources said a man described as being of Middle Eastern descent put a package behind a sign Tuesday morning near the elevators just outside the Transportation Security Administration screening area on the second floor of the Hawaiian Airlines inter-island terminal.

Witnesses reported the man was acting suspicious, saw people looking at him and walked away from the package, but then he walked back and picked it up and walked away, sources said.

Securitas private security officers were notified at the scene and sources said they reported the incident to their dispatch office which notified state airport officials. But the lead law enforcement agency at the airport, the state Sheriffs Division, was not notified for roughly an hour and a half to two hours, sources told Hawaii News Now.

Aaron Hunger, a retired police officer who is also a University of Hawaii and Remington College criminal justice instructor, said the different agencies need to do a better job of communicating and coordinating.

"Clearly there was a delay in communication to notifying the agency that was responsible for coming and providing law enforcement and security and in a worst-case scenario, counter-terrorism type of assistance," Hungers said.

Tim Sakahara, state Transportation Department spokesman, did not explain why there was a delay in notifying the sheriffs division about this incident.

"The Hawaii Department of Transportation is awaiting the report on the incident," he said.

Sakahara added, "We would like to assure the public that safety and security are the top priorities at our airports and facilities and all reports of suspicious activity are investigated."

Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the state Public Safety Department, which oversees the state Sheriffs Division, said sheriffs deputies responded to "suspicious activity" at the inter-island terminal around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday. Sources said witnesses originally reported the incident around 9:30 or 9:45 a.m., nearly two hours before sheriffs were sent to the scene to begin their investigation.

Sources said video surveillance is being reviewed as part of an investigation of the incident and TSA bomb-sniffing dogs scoured the area and found no explosives Tuesday morning.

Federal authorities met with state airport officials Wednesday to be debriefed about what happened.

Officials involved in security at the airport said privately they're concerned about this incident because it could be terrorists "testing out" security at Honolulu airport, but they said they're also worried that a turf war among some of the agencies there could lead to a delayed response the next time there's a terrorist threat.

Hunger, the criminal justice teacher who spent more than two decades as a police officers and sheriff deputy, said, "This is a prime moment for all of these administrators to step back and look at this and see whether the plans that they have are adequate for the situations that we have here in Hawaii, with this change in terrorist tactics and these very public events that we hold here on the island," such as the upcoming Honolulu Marathon.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now.  All rights reserved.