Syracuse Int’l Establishes In-House Police Department

Syracuse Int’l Establishes In-House Police Department
Paul Nolan
Published in: 

If “doing what you love” means never having to work a day in your life, by the same token, employing workers who love what they do should be better for everyone, too.

Research shows that employees with a sense of ownership and pride in their daily work are more apt to be proactive and bring energy and creativity to their everyday duties. Such employees are also more likely to desire growth and increased responsibility. That sort of ownership mindset and everyday zeal are key elements that the Syracuse Regional Airport Authority (SRAA) expects to see after creating its own police department for Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR).

Shortly after midnight on the first Monday in March, police officers on the newly formed SRAA Police Department began patrolling the Upstate New York airport grounds for the first time. They replaced officers from the Syracuse Police Department who had worked at the airport both directly and on a contract basis through a third-party security company for most of SYR’s existence.


Creating Airport Police Dept.

Syracuse Hancock (NY) Int’l Airport

Annual Airport Budget: 
$42 million

2022 Enplanements: 1.27 million

Airport Property: 2,300 acres

Total Airport Employees: 135

Police Dept. Employees: 2 full-time officers, 19 part-time officers

Equipment Costs: 
$150,000 (not including vehicles)

Vehicles: 3 used vehicles; plans to purchase 1 more this summer & 2 more later

Headquarters Facility: Airport is renovating 1,900 sq. ft. in main terminal to create fully equipped police station with evidence room, interview rooms, armory, etc.

Strategy: Establish in-house airport police department vs. contracting city officers

Project Consultant: 
Steven Baldwin Associates

Key Benefits: Officers dedicated exclusively to airport policing (vs. picking up extra shifts at airport on ad hoc basis) will demonstrate more commitment & be more familiar with airport facilities; department can select candidates with strong communication skills & knack for interacting with public

Creating a Department “from Scratch”

State lawmakers approved creation of the SRAA Police Department—the first new officially recognized police department in New York in many decades—during their 2022 legislative session.

The new airport police force consists of 19 part-time officers (all with police backgrounds) led by two full-time officers, Chief Mark Werbeck and Captain Anthony Sobiech. Werbeck retired from the Syracuse Police Department last summer to accept the airport police chief position. Sobiech is a Gulf War veteran with 28 years in law enforcement, all with the Syracuse Police Department.

Although the title of SRAA police chief is new for Werbeck, leading the policing effort at SYR is not. The New York native began working at the airport shortly after 9/11 and oversaw the Syracuse Police Department Airport Section, serving as the direct liaison between the city police department and Airport Authority. In that role, he scheduled the city officers who wanted to pick up part-time work at the airport and was the key point of contact for the SRAA.

Werbeck, who began his new leadership role in August, says that positive experiences at SYR over the last two decades convinced him to apply for and accept the police chief role.

“I would take vacation days to work out here because I liked what was happening,” he explains. “I liked the interaction with the passengers. I felt like I could do some things differently than I did when I was in a police car. It was very rewarding to see that the folks we interacted with were thankful not only for our presence, but the help you offered them.

“It’s important for everyone to understand that we started this department from scratch,” Werbeck adds. “In New York state, this hasn’t happened for 50 years.”

His goal is to earn accreditation for the new department from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. The voluntary accreditation program is designed to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and professionalism of law enforcement agencies. It also promotes training and works to foster public confidence in law enforcement.

Werbeck served as program manager for the Syracuse Police Department’s accreditation effort, and he also was an assessor for the state, reviewing other departments that applied for accreditation. “Everything that you need to know to start off or manage a police department I learned from being part of that accreditation program,” he remarks.

Because of Werbeck’s extensive background in accreditation and knowledge of what it takes to create, equip and train a police force, the airport did not require outside consultants.

A timeline to apply for accreditation for the new airport department has not yet been set because he wants to make sure it will pass with flying colors.

Hiring and Training

The new SRAA Police Department is responsible for law enforcement at the terminals and throughout the airport’s 2,300-acre grounds. Its officers support privately contracted security personnel, who are tasked with ensuring that the airport complies with federal regulations.

Police officers patrol SYR around-the-clock. Werbeck notes that all of the officers hired have police backgrounds, and many recently retired from various neighboring departments, including the State Police, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and the Oneida Indian Nation, a federally recognized Indian nation on a 300,000-acre reservation in Central New York.

Werbeck emphasizes that the nuances of airport police work require strong communication skills and a knack for interacting with the public. The work is different from urban policing, and he screened applicants accordingly.

“We want them to be engaging, approachable and we want the passengers to feel safe,” he explains. “It’s also important that airport staff understands they have a full-time police force that can help them with whatever they need.”

Before the recent transition, newly hired officers shadowed officers from the Syracuse Police Department who had airport experience. The new officers learned SYR badging regulations and procedures, and became fully familiar with the airport grounds.

Benefits of a Full-Time Force

The airport contracted airport management consultant Steven Baldwin Associates to help assess the feasibility of transitioning to an airport police department from its previous contract arrangement with the Syracuse Police Department. Specific services included a benchmarking analysis with seven comparable airports.

Steven Baldwin, the firm’s president and chief executive, explains that the Syracuse Police Department was wrestling with staffing problems of its own and had notified SRAA officials that it was uncertain how long the city department would be able to continue the airport policing contract. A hybrid model that combined airport police with contracted security was considered, but the project team ultimately determined that the best solution was for SYR to have its own department.

Baldwin notes that other airports would be wise to proactively seek the authority for policing power when shifting from a city-owned-and-operated model to an airport authority model (like SYR did in 2011). 

Two key advantages of having an in-house police department are increased control over staffing and consistency in shift coverage. Werbeck recalls firsthand how chaotic things could get when Syracuse police officers who signed up for shifts at the airport backed out at the last minute, because he himself worked such shifts.

Airport leadership looks forward to an increased sense of ownership and effectiveness from officers. “We now have a force that is dedicated to the airport and wants to be at the airport,” says Chief Operating Officer Daniel Zenk. “Officers will have a greater familiarity with what is normal in all aspects of airport policing.”

“The officers here have skin in the game,” Werbeck adds. “They’re out here because they want to do this type of work, whereas before, working as an independent contractor, many were mostly looking for some spare money.”

Zenk notes that over time, SYR will actually save money with the new arrangement because city police officers working on a contract basis were paid a higher hourly rate than officers on the newly formed airport department.

The anticipated benefits were not easy to arrange. Zenk reports that Airport Authority leaders had to lobby state lawmakers aggressively to secure legislative approval to establish an airport police department. Sen. John W. Mannion was a lead proponent of the push. “By having a dedicated police force for the airport, we can ensure the safety and security of travelers and staff, and provide a more efficient and effective response to any potential incidents,” Mannion stated in an airport press release. “The airport is a key driver of commerce, tourism and job creation in Central New York, and I’ll continue to do everything I can in the budget process and legislatively to support its growth and operations.”

Equipping the New Force

While the officers behind the badges are the most important element of the newly formed police force, there was still the matter of providing them with a station and equipment. This March, SYR put out a request for bids to renovate a portion of the main terminal to create a police headquarters.

The 1,900-square-foot airport station will include all the components of a traditional police station, including an evidence room, interview rooms and an armory. The project will be paid for with federal funds that were awarded earlier this year. Construction is currently under way and is expected to wrap up by July. 

New uniforms, guns and radio equipment are already in place, and the department is continuing to use three vehicles the Airport Authority purchased from the city. Syracuse Police Department markings have been replaced with the new SRAA Police Department logo, which features an airplane taking off and the airport’s three-letter identifier.

Total equipment and supply costs to date (not including vehicles) are approximately $150,000. The department plans to purchase an additional police vehicle this summer, then two more sometime later.

“We knew what we needed and what the good equipment is that will last, and we moved forward with that,” says Werbeck. “If you’re going to start a police department, you might as well do it right the first time and not have to go back and spend more money to correct it.”

Spending carefully to save over the long run—that sounds exactly like the pride of ownership airport leaders were hoping for when they decided to establish an in-house police department.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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