Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Airport Officers Get New Chief as Merger with City Police Stalls

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Airport Officers Get New Chief as Merger with City Police Stalls

Article excerpt

A new chief took the helm of the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport police force Monday, the latest chapter in bureaucratic wrangling over merging the department with the St. Louis police.

The move raises questions about control of security, traffic and criminal investigations at the airport, which is projected to see more than 13 million visitors this year.

The airport's police force long operated independently from the city's traditional police department. The merger was supposed to come as part of the return of local control to the St. Louis Police Department. Three city commanders a major, lieutenant and sergeant had been moved to the airport as part of the transition.

That arrangement ended Monday, when Capt. Mark Hollenberg of the airport's department became acting chief of its roughly 70 police officers. He was appointed by Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Lambert's director. The three city officers no longer will be assigned to the airport.

No other police officers, either city or airport, had been transferred as part of the move toward a merger, which has been plagued with pitfalls including disputes over Social Security benefits, pensions and pay.

In October, 50 airport police officers sued the city, the Civil Service Commission and its individual members seeking parity in pay and benefits with city officers. They also demanded back pay to 2013, when City Hall took control of the St. Louis Police Department. It had been governed since the mid-19th century by a state-appointed board. The city owns the airport.

The suit noted that firefighters who work at the airport are city firefighters, and are paid the same as other city firefighters. The St. Louis Fire Department has two stations at the airport.

And Social Security benefits have been a big stumbling block in merging the police departments. St. Louis police are part of the police retirement system and do not pay into Social Security. Airport employees do.

But despite an agreement hashed out on those benefits at a September meeting in Washington, under which airport police officers would keep their Social Security benefits after being told they weren't eligible, the matter continues to hinder efforts to bring Lambert officers under the umbrella of St. …

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