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Okaloosa renews contract with Sheriff’s Office for continued security at all 3 airports

On Tuesday, November 7, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioner unanimously approved the renewal contract between the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Airports Department for $3.3 million. Tracy Stage, Airports Director, […]

(left) Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, and Deputy Brian Beyhl and K9 Skye (right)

On Tuesday, November 7, the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioner unanimously approved the renewal contract between the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Airports Department for $3.3 million.

  • The contract renewal will continue law enforcement, communications and security services provided by the sheriff’s office at the county’s three airports. 

Tracy Stage, Airports Director, said the Sheriff’s Office brought “instant credibility, sweeping overnight capabilities and efficiencies” when they took over airport law enforcement duties in 2017.

The contract renewal is retroactive to Oct. 1 and includes a 10.8% increase from last year, largely due to rising personnel costs, Stage said. The Transportation Security Administration [TSA] provides partial reimbursement of security costs at the airports with the remaining  costs covered through rates and charges by the airlines.

Stage commended the 6 years partnership along with Major Mike Howell of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office who stood up the unit when he was a Lieutenant. 

  • “He’s the one that set the expectation for the federal security regulations that we adhere to in our security plan,” said Stage. “Under his outstanding leadership, Mike Howell made sure that the department met that.”

Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel made the motion to approve the contract renewal and praised the sheriff’s office unit highlighting the expertise and professionalism that allows issues at the airport to be handled with discretion.

“As you can imagine, with the volume of people that move through that airport, not only seasonally, but throughout the year, there’s a lot of things that happen quietly at the airport that are handled,” she said. “And that’s all because of the expertise and professionalism of this group. So I cannot thank you all enough for being here, and for the work that you’ve done.”

Commissioner Nathan Boyles said inviting the Sheriff’s Office to take over airport law enforcement duties was an example of the county opening itself to outside expertise, which he said has benefited citizens. 

Major Mike Howell helped establish the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Airports Security Unit in 2017 and recalled being nervous about taking on the responsibility of securing the “front door” of Eglin Air Force Base’s F-35 program and handling the more than 2 million passengers that pass through the airports annually. 

  • “If it wasn’t for the leadership and partnership of Director Stage and his team at the airport, this program would not have been as successful as it is,” Howell said.

Howell retires at the end of December but said the airports are in “good hands” with the men and women of the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s not just a saying that service is in our DNA, it really is,” said Howell to the board. “We love to protect our citizens and provide the service. Unfortunately, when people call us, it’s on their worst day and they need something. Being out there at the airport, we get to deal with people on good days. And so that community oriented relationship really serves everyone well.”

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