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Airport security guards working the graveyard shift occasionally climb the air traffic control tower and peer out at the faraway parking lots in search of thieves and vandals.

Uniformed officers routinely ride shuttle buses or patrol the lots in marked cars, hoping their presence will prevent crime. Plainclothes surveillance also has been part of the airport's security program."Our tactics of deterring crime appear to be working," Salt Lake City International Airport Director Louis E. Miller says.

Bobette Swenson doesn't think so. She has sued Salt Lake City, the airport and its parking manager, Beehive Parking, for $1.5 million in 3rd District Court. She says lax security resulted in her being raped and beaten while walking to her car in the airport's long-term parking lot on the evening of Nov. 6, 1989. (See accompanying story.)

Figures on crime at the airport appear good or bad, depending on how you look at them. The crime record of private parking facilities near the airport make Salt Lake International's larger, open public lots look like East Los Angeles.

Park N Jet, 2200 W. North Temple, hasn't had a theft in two years, said part-owner and operator Dick Hinckley.

Police records of 1988 and 1989, analyzed in a confidential airport authority memo, show 11 strong-arm crimes, such as rape and assault, and more than 400 thefts.

The confidential memorandum by Miller to the Airport Authority Board in January 1990 qualified the number of violent crimes. The memo, obtained through Swenson's attorney, said only two assaults possibly occurred in the parking lots, another couldn't be located, four were unfounded, and four were fights among taxi drivers.

Concerning other crimes, Miller wrote, "It is our belief, and there is supporting evidence, that the employees of the rental car agencies are involved in a number of the vandalism activities."

Salt Lake police aren't releasing crime figures for the airport because of the ongoing litigation. But Lt. Marty Vuyk said the airport isn't a high-crime area requiring special attention. In 1988, violent crimes and thefts at the airport accounted for 1 percent of the city's total, according to statistics listed in Miller's memo.

"There is very little crime there, especially considering the number of people that pass through the area," Vuyk said.

But Swenson's lawsuit raises the issue of whether security is adequate to deter crime, regardless of how much occurs, at the airport.

Beehive Parking operates the lots under contract with the airport. But in response to Swenson's suit, the two organizations each said the other was chiefly responsible for security.

"The plaintiff's injury and damage may have been caused or contributed to by co-defendant Beehive Parking," the airport said in a formal reply to Swenson's suit.

Miller's confidential memo added that the airport's security efforts in the parking lot are voluntary and "over and above the security measures taken by Beehive."

But Beehive "denies it is responsible for lighting or security at the parking lot facilities at the Salt Lake International Airport."

"We don't have anything to do with security, and we have never done any patrolling," Beehive's airport parking lot manager West Blanchard told the Deseret News.

Despite poor lighting and infrequent patrols by airport security, Blanchard said parking security is adequate, considering it's a public parking lot.

"When someone asks me how safe their car will be, I say, `How safe is it on the street.' I've been in the parking business for a lot of years, and the only time you are responsible for a car (and its contents) is when the owner leaves you the keys," he said.

Miller concluded his memo by saying the airport is considering recommendations that could help detect and prevent crime in the parking lots. But since the memo 18 months ago, nothing has changed.

"We haven't done much at all. The parking lots are as secure today as they were two years ago and as they will be in the new" parking plaza that opens this fall, Miller said.


(Additional information)

Parking perils

Crimes reported in parking lots at the Salt Lake International Airport:

'88 '89

Homicide 0 0

Rape 1 2

Robbery 1 2

Assault 2 3

Burglary 8 4

Larceny 197 186

Auto theft 21 15

Arson 0 0

Source: Salt Lake City Airport Authority