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Federal and local law enforcement
squabble over Pittsburgh airport
[Pittsburgh, PA]

December 20, 2000
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Federal and local law enforcement
squabble over Pittsburgh airport
[Pittsburgh, PA]

PoliceOne Staff Report
(ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa.) -- A power struggle between state and local authorities over jurisdiction of the Pittsburgh International Airport could threaten the effectiveness of law enforcement to stem the flow of drugs there, according to the county prosecutor.

Felix Jimenez, the DEA's top Special Agent in Pennsylvania, wrote to the prosecutor last week:

"It appears that there is a systematic attempt by the command of the Allegheny County Police Department to 'obstruct' DEA's mission at the Pittsburgh International Airport," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The Airport Authority has revoked DEA credentials that allow them to pass freely through restricted areas. To counter this move the Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. is talking about arresting Airport Authority Executive Director Kent George for obstruction of justice and of using litigation to assert authority over local police.

"I am concerned that obstructing the access and movement of task force agents creates a very compelling public safety concern, not only for the millions of persons who utilize this facility, but for the residents of this county," Zappala wrote in a Dec. 1 letter to Lee Weitz, US Airways station director in Pittsburgh. This letter was also first reported by the Post-Gazette.

But the Airport Authority said that they have safety concerns as well and that the DEA has been reluctant to share information with local police.

"When there is a need for other armed law enforcement agencies to conduct business on airport property, it must be coordinated with the county police so that misunderstandings can be avoided," according to a letter George wrote to Jimenez in November.

George wrote that many federal law enforcement agencies operate within the airport, "but only after their respective details have been thoroughly coordinated with on-airport law enforcement. I am sure you agree that the safety of the patrons of the airport could be compromised because of a lack of cooperation."

"We've been trying to convince both the DEA and the DA's office to just coordinate with the county police," Jeffrey Letwin, the Airport Authority's general counsel told the Pittsburgh newspaper. "They don't want to do that."

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