Police may be pulled from SFO to streets 

Some San Francisco police officers working at San Francisco International Airport may be reassigned to patrol city streets to deal with spikes in violent crime.

A bill by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi passed the Public Safety Committee on Monday and could go before the full Board of Supervisors as early as next week. The bill calls for police Chief Heather Fong and airport Manager John Martin to work together to "create a staffing plan to redeploy sworn airport personnel under certain circumstances and set reporting requirements."

Mirkarimi introduced the bill in February following a 2006 City Controller report that found the police department’s airport bureau could save $2 million per year by redeploying some of its own resources internally. The report also found that the airport bureau was budgeted for 34 sworn officer positions in excess of its need. But the audit determined that the bureau could not spare officers for permanent redeployment.

The airport bureau is part of the San Francisco Police Department, but is funded by the airport’s budget, which is separate from San Francisco’s general fund.

The legislation calls for Fong and Martin to develop a plan by which The City, operating below its charter-mandated minimum staffing level, could borrow officers from the airport "to respond to staffing shortages, increases in crime or violence or other circumstances that create a need for additional sworn personnel in the city and county."

The department reported on January 26 that it employs 1,706 active-duty officers. In 1994, the charter was amended to require a minimum staffing level of 1,971 officers in The City, apart from the airport bureau. Several city neighborhoods, including the Bayview, Mission and Western Addition, have suffered troublesome rates of homicide and other violent crime.

But Martin and bureau Cmdr. Jim Lynch cautioned that assigning airport officers double-duty could lead to mandatory overtime and canceled vacations for those officers. "The controller’s audit was clear that staffing effectively is justified," Lynch said after the hearing Monday.

The federal Transportation Security Administration mandates security measures that the bureau must meet. Lynch declined to reveal the federally mandated staffing levels, citing security concerns, but Mirkarimi said Monday that "we haven’t come close to the floor of what the TSA regulation is."

Package spurs terminal shutdown

Parts of San Francisco International Airport’s Inter-national Terminal were evacuated for nearly an hour Monday morning after bomb-sniffing dogs indicated that a suspicious package contained explosives.

But the suspicious device turned out to be nothing more than diagrams of solar cells, the ink from which confused the dogs, officials reported. They said the bomb scare did not delay any flights.

The bomb scare started when a passenger approached an airport police officer and reported an unattended package near the escalators in the International Terminal, Officer Dianne McKevitt said Monday.

The airport officer, who was working with an explosives-detecting dog, had the dog sniff the package, described as a black tube with green tape. The dog sat down after smelling the tube, an indication that it found something suspect. Another dog was called in, McKevitt said, and that dog sat as well. "Now you’ve got two dogs sitting, so you’ve got to pay attention," McKevitt said.

A bomb squad was called in while about 200 passengers and employees were evacuated from the areas around the escalators, McKevitt said. The area was closed from about 10:45 to about 11:35 a.m., McKevitt said.

The package belonged to a solar energy expert and contained diagrams the man used in presentations at conferences, McKevitt said. When he returned after leaving it unattended to see police activity around his package, the man told officers the package was his and what was in it, she said — but the officers couldn’t leave anything to chance.

The dogs apparently smelled a strong chemical scent from the inky diagrams, and mistook it for explosive chemicals, she said.

The man, who had apparently left the package alone while he went to check in, was not charged with any wrongdoing, McKevitt said.

amartin@examiner.com

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