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An audit recommends Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport create its own police force

A white Jetblue plane passes a yellow Spirit airplane landing on the runway.
Wilfredo Lee
A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320, left, passes a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 as it taxis on the runway, July 7, 2022, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale. Currently the airport outsources its law enforcement, but that may change.

A Broward County audit in April revealed that the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is paying more to contract law enforcement services than peer airports and recommended creating its own police force.

In 2023, the airport paid $28 million to the Broward Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services, but the audit found insufficient documentation from BSO to account for how funds were used or if they were spent at all.

“It was very difficult, or in some cases not possible to get actual expenditure data from them,” said Broward County Auditor Bob Melton. His office conducted the audit under the airport’s request. The Broward County Aviation Department, which runs the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, has had a contract with BSO since 1996.

According to Melton, if the sheriff’s office fails to show proof of how the money was spent, it could land the office in hot water. This is because BSO has charged the aviation department based on budgeted amounts instead of the actual costs.

“The FAA rules say that airport expenditures should be for the benefit of the airport,” Melton said. “If the airport is indeed paying in excess of BSO’s cost, then that could very possibly be a violation of those rules.”

If BSO is found noncompliant of FAA regulations, it’s up to airport officials to determine how to deal with the situation.

The audit cites the reason for the high costs to be the airport’s lack of a “competitive approach” because it can only contract with BSO.

The audit says this “may disincentivize BSO from being responsive to the FLL Airport’s needs” and recommends that the airport evaluate the feasibility of creating its own police force.

In a response, BCAD has agreed to evaluate the possibility. However, if FLL was to go ahead and create its own police force, it would require modifications to local government laws. Most of the airport is in unincorporated Broward County, but other parts are in the cities of Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, and Dania Beach.

READ MORE: Broward awards $228 million contract to company sued by county multiple times

More specifically, the audit said the airport could have saved $540,000 on cash out payments and $843,000 on overtime hours. The audit recommended increased oversight to ensure that fuel and vehicle costs were actually spent on police vehicles for work-related purposes. There were also many errors in tracking fuel and vehicle costs, including some transactions with no recorded employee identification.

The investigation also re-calculated response times, revealing that they are much longer than reported by BSO. It stated that BSO should improve its methodology.

Airport officials also built BSO a new space, which BSO claimed to have faulty construction, such as water leaks and air quality issues. The audit confirmed that this was true, and it was not suitable for BSO to move into the new space.

“These issues are serious and they need to be corrected,” Melton said.

His office will do a follow-up report in six to 12 months to evaluate the state of the audit recommendations.

In response to the audit, BSO released a statement, saying it is being reviewed.

"BSO is proud to provide public safety services at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and looks forward to continuing our partnership with the Broward County Aviation Department," said BSO officials.

Airport and Broward County officials say they are also reviewing the audit's findings.

Anita Li is a Spring and Summer 2024 intern for WLRN. She is about to enter her last year at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she studies journalism.
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