Airport security first? Not in Denver

Associated Press

DENVER — For two months, a TV station’s hidden camera caught police officers spending hours behind the doors of a break room at the Denver airport when they should have been out on patrol.

KCNC captured footage of one officer entering the windowless room during an NFL playoff game and exiting hours later. And one officer was clocked spending four hours of an eight-hour shift in the break room.

With airport security ratcheted up nationwide since Sept. 11 and with the Winter Olympics days away, newspaper editorial writers, callers to radio talk shows and city leaders were outraged by the footage last week, especially since the city has been paying the officers thousands of dollars a day in overtime.

"I went to the moon," said city council member Ed Thomas, a former police officer and chairman of the council’s airport committee. "How do you explain that you’ve got police officers, sworn to serve and protect, spending five hours watching football instead of watching the airport?"

Police chief Gerry Whitman has launched an investigation that could lead to disciplinary action against officers. On Monday, he announced the transfer of 10 people, including a former police chief who commanded the airport detail. A total of 247 officers are assigned to work full or part time at the airport.

Whitman said it appears security has not been undermined at the airport, which has had 20 additional officers assigned there since Sept. 11.

Taxi driver Joe Henderson said the officers should lose their jobs.

"They’re taking the city for a ride," he said outside the airport Wednesday. "With all the scrutiny they’re getting, how could they not be there? Any other job, they would be fired."

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