CRESTVIEW FL March 13 2017 — The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office will begin providing law-enforcement protection at the three county airports April 1.
On March 7, the County Commission unanimously approved an agreement to have the Sheriff's Office replace the county Airports Police Division, which officials said has often experienced major staffing problems. The six-month agreement will expire Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2017.
The OCSO had provided security at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) from 1997 through 2011. The newly-created police division then took over, following former county Airports Director Greg Donovan's determination that it would be more cost efficient for the airport to have its own police department.
But in the past five years, the police division has gone through two police chiefs and an interim chief and struggled to attract and retain officers, current Airports Director Tracy Stage told commissioners last week.
"Safety and security is our top priority" said Stage, who noted that the fast-growing VPS has seen double-digit increases in passengers for the last nine consecutive months.
County officials had designated almost $1.3 million in this year's budget for the police division's services, including communications and dispatch services. The cost of the Sheriff's Office services for the remainder of fiscal 2017 will be $758,465, or a little more than $126,000 per month.
At that monthly rate, the OCSO's cost for a full fiscal year would total a little more than $1.5 million. Besides working at VPS, the Sheriff's Office will provide security at the Bob Sikes and Destin Executive general-aviation airports, which have had little to no security presence in recent years, Stage said.
Commission Vice Chairman Graham Fountain noted that, "with the world we are dealing with today," the Sheriff's Office will be able to provide a SWAT team and other resources that the police division doesn't have. He also was pleased that the OCSO will provide security at each of the three airports.
'I'm very impressed" with the new security arrangement, Fountain said.
Commissioner Nathan Boyles said he doesn't "love spending the amount of money that we're going to spend at the airport for security, but obviously it's our top priority."
According to Stage, 12 of the 20 police division's allotted positions are currently filled. Eight of the filled positions are full-time officers and four are part-time relief officers.
It is anticipated that five of those full-time officers will transfer to the OCSO as full-time deputies and two of the relief officers will become part-time deputies, Stage said in a memo to the commission.
"All others have either declined or failed to meet the OCSO standards," he said.