Gulfport Police Starts New Airport Division

Gulfport Police officers have been on patrol at the airport since the 1970s, but it's always been a revolving door of officers looking to pick up a few extra shifts. Now, a permanent crew of seven officers monitors airport security working side by side with the National Guard.

Sonny Wehrman is the supervisor for the new Airport Division. He works from a new office inside the airport studying manuals about airport security and FAA regulations.

Wehrman says the idea for the Airport Division started long before security concerns created by the terrorist attacks, but "September the 11th kind of pushed this forward and expedited the need to have officers out here to provide passenger safety and to make them feel comfortable and provide security for them."

Passengers will not likely notice any major differences, but the airport director says everyone will benefit by having a permanent police force stationed there.

"It's like an officer's beat, if you will," Airport Director Bruce Frallic said.  "They get to know the tenants that are operating here at the airport, the employees, they know the regular customers, they know how to deal with situations in front of the terminal building."

The airport will pay the city of Gulfport nearly $400,000 in this first year as part of the agreement. That amount will taper off over the next few years.

With the tremendous growth the airport has seen over the past few years and new, stricter security measures, the Airport Authority feels having experienced officers stationed here regularly will give passengers a little more confidence when flying.

At least two officers are on duty at all times at the airport. The fee the airport pays the city takes care of salaries, benefits and all the equipment for those officers.