State says it 'didn't' fire deputy sheriffs at airport, but wants to re-examine duties

State says it 'didn't' fire deputy sheriffs at airport, but wants to re-examine duties
Updated: Jun. 20, 2017 at 3:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The future of state deputy sheriffs at Honolulu's airport is unclear, but officials said they're committed to trying to work out a new deal.

"There's a lot of rumors going around that I fired the sheriffs. I didn't," state Transportation Department Director Ford Fuchigami told reporters Tuesday.

The state Transportation Department did confirm that it had given the Public Safety Department a 180-day notice of its intent to terminate an agreement to station 57 deputy sheriffs at the airport.

But Fuchigami said he wants to work out a new agreement that gives deputy sheriffs new duties and better coordinates security operations at the airport.

"Security measures change every single day because of the fact national security is at risk.  We need to be able to incorporate those changes into the sheriff's agreement so they know what our requirements are," said Fuchigami.

Officials also said that there is a chance that deputy sheriffs could no longer be stationed at the airport -- if a deal can't be reached.

Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda said that the end of the current agreement is a starting point.

"We understand we are on the clock to make the improvements before the end of the year and we are working to make the necessary adjustments," he said, in a news release.

The public statements came after several days of confusion over the letter to DPS -- and how law enforcement would protect the millions of passengers and visitors at Hawaii's busiest airport.

Currently, deputy sheriffs and embattled private security firm Securitas handle safety operations at the airport.  Nearly 300 Securitas officers work at the airport on any given day.  Some 72 are armed.

Despite reassurances that the sheriff's department will remain part of the airport's security detail the sheriff's union believes this shake up is an attempt to drive it's deputies out.

"That is our biggest concern that this is just another step toward privatizing law enforcement at the airport and that is something we violently object to," said Randy Perreira, HGEA Executive Director.

In recent months, there have been growing concerns about those armed guards. The state pays the firm $35 million a year for airport security.

Recent airport incidents involving Securitas guards include the fatal shooting of a family dog. The guard at the center of that case had been fired from the Army as a law enforcement officer before being employed by Securitas.

Last year, meanwhile, several Securitas employees pleaded guilty to theft for their role in the airport taxi bribery scheme. The state alleged that several security workers solicited thousands of dollars in bribes from cab drivers at the airport.

And a Hawaii News Now investigation showed multiple former Honolulu police officers, fired from that department, were also getting positions as armed security guards at the airport.

In the past, Securitas' responsibilities were limited to security for checkpoint, fences and entryways.

But in 2004, the DOT said, Securitas officers were given arrest power.

This story will be updated.

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