I-Team: NO STANDING SHOWDOWN: Airport increases security after I-Team investigation

Posted at 2:35 PM, Jun 21, 2018

We've all been there.  You're just off a flight, ready to claim your baggage, about to meet your ride outside. 

But time and time again, Jim Treat says he's noticed those drivers actually parking their cars and just sitting outside the arrivals terminal at Buffalo- Niagara International Airport.

He told the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team, he saw some drivers sitting there for up to ten minutes.  It's something he grew increasingly frustrated with.

"For cars to be sitting there for a long period of time, I just think is a great safety issue," Treat said via FaceTime.

To document what he saw, Treat recorded several videos when he was here last month, visiting family in Niagara Falls.  He travels frequently from Baltimore and says he sees the same thing each time.  Treat is calling his findings alarming.

"In some cases, the cars were vacant.  There's no one in there and in other situations, there's someone sitting there.  I'm not sure what they're doing from a security perspective," Treat said.  "I  don't want to over exaggerate, but maybe a bomb or something they'd be waiting to set off."

We took that concern to Chief George Gast, who is in charge of the NFTA police department.  They have law enforcement authority over the facility.  

"Security of our customers here at the airport is of the utmost importance,"  Gast said.  "We always say, see something, say something."

We also showed him the videos Jim Treat recorded.  Despite the signs posted all around, explaining drivers would be ticketed and towed for standing, Gast says it's circumstantial.  He used an example of a family dropping off a 90-year-old father.

"You wanna come out and find your car gone," Gast asked.

But in the video, recorded by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team, there is a black Mercedes Benz that doesn't move, until finally, a traffic agent directs them to move, nearly 20 minutes after we first started recording.

Those traffic agents are hired by a third party, US Securities.  They are often the last line of defense when an NFTA police officer isn't around.  

At one point in the video, however, an NFTA officer drives by the Benz, taking no action.

"We have to maintain a balance between security and customer service and I think we do a very good job with doing that," Gast said. 

Treat told 7 Eyewitness News he would be satisfied if police issued tickets to let people know this is a serious issue.

"We do that on a regular basis," Gast said.

Based on self-reporting from the NFTA, 200 tickets were issued since January of this year, nearly 10% of those tickets, 19 total, were outside the arrivals terminal.

"It is a frustrating issue because it's the matter of maintaining balance," Gast said.  "A year ago, I was answering complaints, officers were writing too many tickets and they were being too aggressive."

Gast said he understands travelers' concerns but believes in taking a targeted approach to policing the airport.

NFTA officers and their K-9 partners routinely do random screenings.  A K-9 sweeps the car, sniffing for explosives.  They also do random security checkpoints to prevent possible attacks.

"They would see the K-9 patrolling.  They would see the vehicle checkpoints.  They would see the officers randomly stopping vehicles and talking to drivers.  Those are all deterrents to anything happening here at the airport," Gast said.

The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team was invited to see a checkpoint, after our initial interview with police.

Last year, The TSA awarded airport security the "gold standard."

But seeing our I-Team video and the video Treat took, forced Gast to make some changes.

"I'll step up patrols.  I'll have the captain make the lieutenants aware of the situation," Gast said.  "The officers will be directed to take a little harder look at how long vehicles are sitting."

Jim Treat says that would be beneficial.

"I think if people knew it was a serious thing, people would take it seriously," Treat said.  "Safety should be everyone's concern."

The NFTA is reminding travelers to use their free See Something, Say Something app to report cars sitting around, or other suspicious activity

An NFTA spokesperson told us, based on this story, they spoke to the traffic officers, hired by that third party security company and "expressed concerns."

The spokesperson said, "We will continue to monitor the process..."


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