Investigators exclusive: Newark Airport security lacking compared to other big cities

Monday, September 19, 2016
The Investigators: How does Newark's security stack up with other airports?
Jim Hoffer investigates.

NEWARK (WABC) -- Following a bombing at the airport in Turkey back in June, the Eyewitness News Investigators took a look at security at our area airports. And one in particular stood out for its lack of a visible police presence.

In our first security check at Newark Liberty International Airport, we strolled through all three terminals for nearly an hour. We saw huge crowds of people, but not a single Port Authority police officer inside or curbside.

We went back a few weeks later, and this time, we saw two officers at Terminal B and also two at Terminal A. But in the biggest and busiest one, United's Terminal C, we again saw no sign of any police.

To see what kind of security other airports have, we went to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC, where we saw an immediate difference. At Reagan International, there was an officer standing next to an unattended bag as he awaited the arrival of an explosives-trained K-9 officer. The bag was checked, then taken to a secure area. On the other side of the terminal, another K-9 unit checked for bombs.

"This is a very good example of law enforcement," former FBI counter-terrorism special agent Jeffrey Ringel said. "They see something they don't like, get a K-9 dog and take bag off site."

Ringel was impressed by Reagan International's use of heavily-armed officers routinely patrolling the airport, something we never saw at Newark.

"When people see law enforcement out there, and that's what's going to give confidence to the public," he said. "And to discourage anybody who may be planning to do something."

At BWI in Baltimore, where there is one main terminal, we saw two police officers near a key TSA checkpoint and not one but two different K-9 teams sniffing bags for explosives during our 90-minute visit. There was a police car flashing lights at curbside, another patrolling outside, and a third officer keeping watch inside.

On our final stop at Philadelphia International, we noticed a police guard posted right near the door at every terminal entrance, usually with two officers assigned to the post. In addition, there was an officer curbside checking to make sure cars don't linger too long.

"Two officers standing on post separately, excellent," said security expert Nicholas Casale, who emphasized the importance of having a visible presence at the door.

The former deputy director of security for the MTA said for Newark to have such a thin visible police presence borders on the negligent, especially in the wake of recent attacks on airports in Turkey and Belgium.

"(Airports are) their favorite targets," he said. "It's the most porous, as far as security goes. It has the most people. It effects the economy the most, and they are going to continue doing it."

In response to our investigation, the Port Authority said it has layers of security that exceed federal requirements, including K-9 patrols, intelligence and technology to secure their airports.

The agency said that after airport bombings overseas, they increased the number of officers at the airports, including highly-visibility patrols with tactical weapons.

We should note that in two separate checks at Newark, we never saw these heavily armed patrols. It's possible they were patrolling in the airport's sterile area behind security checkpoints, but as we've seen in the past, most attacks are probably coming in through the front door.