Security strains police |

Security strains police

Heightened measures at airport spread Hayden's forces thin

Transportation Safety Administration screener Mary Martinez uses a handheld metal detector to search Craig resident Connie Lyster before she boarded a plane Thursday morning at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
Matt Stensland

— Being prevented from taking a drink on a plane is a minor inconvenience to many air travelers, but the heightened air security measures are causing a serious strain on a local police department.

“It’s stressful,” said Hayden Police Chief Jody Lenahan, who was at Yampa Valley Regional Airport on Thursday morning to help screen passengers.

Since Aug. 10, the day after British authorities foiled a terrorist plot involving planes headed for the U.S., heightened security has required an armed law enforcement officer be present when passengers are being screened at YVRA. The airport is within Hayden town limits.

The obligation is straining the small Hayden Police Department, which has 4 1/2 full-time officers and two part-time officers, Lenahan said. Often, the only Hayden officer on duty is required to be at the airport, assisting Transportation Safety Administration employees with screening. Lenahan said off-duty officers would have to be called if something were to happen in Hayden.

And that’s exactly what happened last week, when Hayden police received a report of a domestic disturbance. Lenahan was the only officer on duty, and he was at the airport assisting with screening when the call came in.

A vacationing officer and an off-duty officer had to be dispatched to handle the call. The dispute turned out to be minor, but having the only on-duty officer tied up at the airport worried Lenahan.

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office has offered to assist the department should something happen in town, Lenahan said, but there is no guarantee a deputy will be close to Hayden when an officer is needed. The heightened security at the airport is “all for a good cause,” Lenahan said, but he is concerned what will happen if the security level is not lowered soon.

Currently, only four flights depart from Hayden daily, but more flights will start leaving the airport next month. Should the security level carry into the ski season, an officer might have to spend the entire day at the airport.

“We’ll just have to handle it,” Lenahan said. “We’d have to amend the budget, but the town wants to work with the airlines and TSA.”

YVRA public security director Tyler Whitmore said it is nice to have Hayden police present at the airport, but he understands there is a downside to having a heightened security level.

“Hopefully they downgrade it soon, but I don’t know when that will be,” Whitmore said. “I think every airport is feeling the strain, especially airports of this size.”

TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said the agency works closely with local law enforcement groups and airports to get through periods that put pressure on local resources. She said it is impossible to know how long the increased security will be needed.

“They will be in place as long as they’re needed,” Harmon said.

– To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210 or e-mail

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