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Sparrows Point police chief fired, adding to concerns about port security

Above: Pealing sign above the main factory entrance. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

David Fyhr, chief of police at Severstal Sparrows Point, has been sacked a year before his expected retirement, leaving the steel mill, which sits at the head of Baltimore harbor and doubles as a deep-water port, without any regular law enforcement officers.

((UPDATE: Read on for response from Baltimore County police and the Coast Guard.))

The firing of all company police – last month, four of six officers were terminated, leaving only Chief Fyhr and an assistant who has since been dismissed – has not sat well with several sources.

They say homeland security could be compromised by Severstal’s replacement of trained and armed police by “rent-a-cop” guards responsible for securing the sprawling site, which includes several miles of harbor waterfront.

“They [the company police] are necessary and vital to the employees and crucial to the security of the plant,” a knowledgeable source told The Brew, who outlined this scenario:

“Bad guys could enter the plant by water if they watched patrol check the waterline; they would know that the area is now checked only a few times a day. When boats are docked at Sparrows Point, a guard is posted outside of the entrance. However, this guard is there only to make sure everyone entering/exiting the pier has a ‘TWIC’ (Transportation Workers Identification Card) as mandated by the Coast Guard/Homeland Security.”

The source continued: “A Philippine ship crew member could be an international terrorist and exit the ship (as long as he had his landing pass) and could catch a Green Sedan cab to Baltimore City with malicious intentions.”

This person said “proper procedure” would be for Sparrows Point police to receive an email from the Coast Guard that the maritime security (MARSEC) level has been raised “and appropriate procedures would follow, including the inspection of all vehicles on the property.”

For 122 years, company officers with full policing power handled law enforcement on the peninsula under a special arrangement with Baltimore County. With the demise of a working police department, security has been transferred to Crown Security Systems, which provides unarmed guards and vehicle patrols.

Severstal’s spokeswoman Bette Kovach and plant general manager David A. Howard have declined to respond to questions about the change in security.

Memorandum of Understanding between the Baltimore County and Sparrows Point police departments.

Officials from the Coast Guard, the federal agency responsible for port security, said that Severstal Sparrows Point does not need to comply with the Maritime Transportation Security Act and other measures passed by Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks because the company has changed its status from an “active” to “caretaker” port.

Boats from overseas bearing iron ore and other raw materials still dock at Sparrows Point. Security for these boats is handled by Kinder Morgan Bulk Terminals, a subcontractor for Severstal. Coast Guard regulations require the stationing of an armed guard while a boat is at dockside, according to USCG Chief Petty Officer Aaron Studie.

Baltimore County police do not patrol the steel company’s property, which starts at Bear Creek near Peninsula Expressway and runs southeast to Jones Creek near North Point Blvd.

A “Memorandum of Understanding” between county police and the company prohibits county officers from entering Sparrows Point, unless invited by the company, except in cases of potential homicide and sex crimes.

It is unclear whether the MOU will be modified as a result of the dismissal of Chief Fyhr and de facto closure of the police department.


* Cpl. Michael Hill of the Baltimore County Police issued the following statement:

“The Baltimore County Police Department is also just learning about the department changes at Sparrows Point. Although these changes have taken place, the County Police Department has not been contacted by Severstal Sparrows Point to amend or modify our current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with them concerning law enforcement on their property. We continue to operate under the existing MOU.

“Commanders within the Baltimore County Police Department will reach out to the Company in the near future to discuss any issues that either entity has regarding law enforcement.”

*  From Com. Kelly Post of the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector Baltimore:

“Because this facility is no longer a marine operation, the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction over it and it is not regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act.”

– Reach Mark Reutter at reuttermark@yahoo.com.

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