Stockham supports airport security bill

Brennan Stebbins

A Senate bill in Missouri creating a state crime for breaching airport security has the support of local airport officials.

Steve Stockham, manager for the Joplin Regional Airport, said the legislation was needed to further secure airport property. Currently federal laws and a local trespassing law help provide airport security, but that sometimes leaves a loophole.

“If you breach security at an airport like ours, of which we have commercial service, it’s actually a federal crime, there are federal laws that cover those security issues,” Stockham said. “Besides just a local trespassing law, no other laws in the state govern anything like that. This would give the state the ability to file charges against that person.

“Basically what happens with us, if somebody jumps a fence or does something out here obviously we will detain them but our only local laws apply to trespassing,” he added. “The feds, unless there is some direct threat, don’t want to pursue that any further because for a federal offense it takes a lot more effort, so what they’re trying to do is put a state statute in there that allows them to do that from the state standpoint, specifically the highway patrol.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rita Heard Days (D-St. Louis), would prohibit someone from unlawfully entering airport property not open to the public, knowingly entering an area within an airport building not open to the public, and knowingly entering an area of an airport without the authorization to do so. Such offenses would be a Class D felony.

Though Stockham wants to see the legislation passed, he said security hasn’t been a big issue for the Joplin airport.

“We have not really had too much of an issue with that, obviously since 9/11 things have changed tremendously,” Stockham said. “We’ve only had a couple instances since 9/11 when that has occurred and in most cases that was by accident. It was a situation where they came through a construction area and got lost and accidentally got someplace they weren’t supposed to be.”

Stockham said he and other airport managers from across the state have been monitoring and discussing the bill, and the general consensus is the legislation is a good idea. The Joplin airport recently opened its new terminal building, and Stockham said that has only made security better.

“We had a pretty good facility from the standpoint of security before but it’s better now because we’ve added electronic assets and security cameras,” he said. “There are a lot more amenities we’ve added with the new terminal building that give us the ability to better monitor and watch all those areas.”

Kent Boyd, marketing director for Springfield-Branson National Airport, said his airport didn’t have any security problems, but he understood some smaller airports were more vulnerable.

“I can’t even remember the last time that happened,” Boyd said about past security breaches. “We can certainly arrest anybody who’s on airport property using federal laws.”

The Springfield airport has its own police department, which can enforce any state or city laws.

“It’s a standalone police organization,” Boyd said. “That’s not the case at smaller airports of course, or they may not even have their own security. In fact, a lot of the smaller airports don’t even have a fence around them.”