Atlanta Int'l Curbs Crime with Increased Visibility & Multiple Layers of Enforcement

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Crime is down at the world's busiest passenger airport, and its "top cop" credits increased visibility of enforcement methods for much of the positive change. Specifically, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) experienced about 12% less crime last year vs. 2013. Larceny, in particular, dropped 34%.  

Maj. Lane A. Hagin, commanding officer of the Atlanta Police Department Airport Precinct, attributes improvement in both areas to a more conspicuous policing presence throughout the facility. 

"For an airport to be as busy as we are and only have an average of six or seven crimes a week - it is all about visibility," says Hagin. "It really is."

At ATL, "visibility" translates into hundreds of police officers and 1,300+ security cameras (most in plain sight). Hagin also considers the FAA, TSA, Atlanta Department of Aviation and airlines important partners in the precinct's prevention and enforcement efforts. Although they have different primary missions than the police department, their personnel and equipment add to the overall safety and security of the airport, he explains.  

Grab & Go

Like many of its Category X counterparts, ATL has been targeted by both organized and unorganized luggage thieves. To help stem the tide, photos of anticipated repeat offenders are posted on the precinct walls to imprint suspects' faces in the minds of frontline forces. When a new incident of larceny occurs, the suspect's photo is placed directly on the briefing podium and is highlighted at roll call.


Project: Preventing Baggage 
Theft & Other Airport Crime

Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int'l Airport

Owner: City of Atlanta

Operator: Atlanta Dept. of Aviation

Enforcement Unit: Atlanta Police Dept. Airport Precinct

Methods Used: Uniformed & undercover officers; security cameras; K-9 units; T3 fleets; bicycle patrols; etc. 

Philosophies Emphasize: Increased visibility of deterrence & enforcement measures; multiple layers of security

Noteworthy Results: Crime at ATL dropped 12%, larceny 34%, last year vs. 2013

"These pictures of baggage thieves are something the officers see every day," says Hagin. "Cameras are a tremendous tool. If we can't catch the person stealing the baggage at the scene, or if we can't prevent it, then we can go back and at least get a picture of the person we suspect has taken the bag ... We will know them when they come in the next time."

The precinct also shares suspect photos with onsite TSA and FAA personnel to broaden the circle of authorities on the lookout. With more than 250,000 passengers filing through ATL every day and checking more than 35,000 pieces of luggage, it's difficult to separate the thieves from the throngs of legitimate travelers. Digital images from still and video security cameras act as modern-day versions of "wanted" posters from the Old West, encouraging a variety of airport personnel to scour the crowds for potential trouble.

"There is a layered approach to everything with airport security and policing, and baggage is no exception," Hagin explains. "We have been able to achieve reductions in overall crime with a lot of visibility."

Equipment & Support

T3 Patrollers are one of the tools that help boost visibility. The electric standup vehicles literally elevate ATL's police presence above the crowds.

When passengers exit the secure area of the airport, they see uniformed police and TSA officers; when they enter the baggage claim area, more uniformed officers are on hand - some atop the eye-catching vehicles.  
"(The T3) allows the officers to see over the crowd, and also allows the crowd to see the police officers," explains Hagin. "It is a really good tool for visibility."

ATL's previous fleet of two-wheeled Segways was recently phased out in favor of three-wheeled T3s, which are designed specifically for public safety agencies.

With nearly 7 million square feet of space to cover in the terminal complex alone, the vehicles also facilitate patrolling efforts. "This airport is so big and so busy; the T3s are a good way to get around," he notes.

The precinct also takes a more manual approach to patrolling ATL's two terminals and seven concourses, with a fleet of 40 bicycles. "People notice things that are uncommon, and a bicycle in an airport, or a T3, or a person with a dog are certainly, to a lot of people, unusual," Hagin reasons. 

The dogs he refers to are 20 specially trained airport-certified canine teams. Typically, they're deployed during particularly busy periods to augment ATL's standard coverage. 

"Although the canines are not looking for explosives, everyone seems to notice a police officer with a dog, so they (also) serve as a great visibility tool," Hagin relates.  

Laying Low

While Hagin is highly committed to using conspicuous deterrence and enforcement methods for airport environments, he also appreciates the effectiveness of inconspicuous measures such as undercover personnel, hidden cameras and sting operations.   

Passengers exiting ATL, for instance, will regularly notice uniformed police outside working the curb. "What passengers might not see are officers that are not in uniform," says Hagin. "They are in plain clothes, observing people and their behavior." 

TSA employs a similarly covert method to help boost the overall veracity of baggage operations at ATL and other U.S. airports. The method, known as "integrity testing," sends plainclothes personnel through airports with high-value items such as cash, iPads and laptops in their checked and carry-on baggage to test whether TSA employees will take them.

In 2013, TSA conducted more than 3,600 integrity tests conducted at 159 different U.S. airports and caught 13 employees stealing planted items. That's a 99.6% pass rate, emphasizes TSA spokesman Mark Howell, noting that the 13 employees who were caught stealing were immediately removed from their posts. 

Although TSA's primary focus is on security, the equipment and personnel it provides help prevent baggage theft and a variety of other airport crime, adds Howell.

"(Integrity testing) is just one of those things that we are doing to make sure our employees are doing the right things," he explains. 

Initiatives undertaken by TSA and other partner agencies are welcome additions to mainline efforts by the Atlanta Police Department Airport Precinct, notes Hagin."It is a layered approach," he stresses. 

Whether passengers are in a secure or unsecure area, inside or outside the terminal, there is a pervasive police presence at ATL - it's just not always evident. 


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