Atlanta mayor addresses airport police concern

By Justin Boron

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin on Thursday reaffirmed her promise to investigate complaints of police brutality at the airport, saying the city's police chief is studying the personnel records of the officers working at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to identify possible trends in the use of excessive force.

The tacit acknowledgment of the scope of the airport's police problems came during a press conference in which airport officials touted the main terminal's future restoration as evidence of its customer service commitment.

But reporters gathering in the north baggage claim area steered away from talk of a "brighter, more inviting" atmosphere. Instead, they raised questions about the airport's customer service in light of allegations pointing to police brutality at the airport.

In early November, a security video showed Officer Terance Alexander removing Stockbridge resident Diana Dietrich-Barnes from her car and forcing her to the ground.

Dietrich-Barnes had been picking up her mother from the airport.

Alexander said she was illegally parked and as she moved her Ford Explorer, a side view mirror struck him, making it necessary to "physically" remove Dietrich-Barnes from her vehicle and arrest her.

Alexander has 24 complaints against him and has been reprimanded 13 times.

He is currently on medical leave and an investigation into the incident is still open, said Sgt. John Quigley, a public information officer for the city.

Franklin said all police would be undergoing customer service training to better equip them for situations in which people are "resistant to direction."

"When you hear the numbers, you begin to realize that this is a city-state within a city," she said.

Comparatively, airport police officers may face more people each day than those working in the city, she said, so the tensions and pressures may be different.

Atlanta Chief Richard Pennington also is considering rotation of officers between the city and the airport, Franklin said.

While the police questions distracted from the meeting's intended purpose, airport officials stuck to their assertion that the restorations demonstrate how the airport exceeds customer expectation.

Ben DeCosta, the airport general manager, said the 25-year old terminal is showing its age.

But improvements will better accommodate the millions of passengers moving through the airport each day, he said.

"By the end of the year, you will see a new, more customer friendly terminal," DeCosta said.

Airport officials also unveiled renderings of how the terminal will look after it is upgraded.

The cosmetic upgrades will include 186,500-square feet of re-tiling, painting, and window replacement to create a "sleek, modern look," said Mike Floyd, the director of planning at the airport.

Silver panels also will be added to several of the columns, he said.

The $6.8 million enhancements, which Floyd said would last 20 to 30 years, are already under way and will be completed by the year's end.