Airport Watch and short-barrelled rifles rolled out at Cairns Airport

Two AFP Protective Service Officers standing at window at Darwin Aiport overlooking aeroplane on ground

Images and vision of the rifles are available for download.

The Australian Federal Police is today launching a rebooted Airport Watch program at Cairns Airport to coincide with the rollout of the Protection Operation Response Team (PORT) officers.

The AFP will use Airport Watch to educate the public and aviation workers about what suspicious activity looks like and how to report it to authorities.

Aviation staff, retail employees and others at Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney airports will receive training and educational resources as part of the initiative.

COVID-19 has created significant shifts within the aviation environment, including the employment of staff who have never worked at airports before.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Northern Command Lesa Gale, said it was an ideal time to encourage vigilance at Cairns Airport and throughout Australia's aviation network.

"The public plays a vital role working with police every day to keep our community safe, and the aviation environment is no different," she said.

"We are calling on locals, people working at the airport and those visiting Far North Queensland to keep your eyes and ears open.

"Due to COVID-19 significantly disrupting both the aviation industry and organised crime supply chains, it is important to prevent any attempts by criminals to exploit these circumstances to their own criminal ends. Aviation industry staff, and the public can make meaningful contributions to the prevention of such exploitation.

"The AFP knows crime can be facilitated by trusted insiders. Airport Watch aims to educate those working in and traveling through major airports about what should be reported and how.

"Here in Cairns, this initiative builds on the AFP's close relationship with Cairns Airport and the local community in Far North Queensland.

"Our message is: if you see or hear something unusual while working at or travelling through one of our major airports, please call the AFP's Airport Watch on 131 237 – it might just prevent a crime and bring perpetrators to the attention of authorities."

Cairns Airport Chief Operating Officer Garry Porter said the airport team worked closely with federal authorities on airport security matters and the Airport Watch program was a key part of the partnership.

"Airport Watch is an important national safety initiative and its relaunch comes as we prepare to see the return of travel over the coming months as vaccination rates rise."

Suspicious activity or unusual behaviour includes:

  • A person observed displaying an unusually keen interest in security procedures;
  • A person observed recording or taking photos in or around sensitive areas of the airport;
  • Anyone acting strangely or in an unusual manner;
  • Anyone heard asking questions to gain information about the airport; and
  • Anyone trying to gain unauthorised access to secure areas.

The AFP encourages airport staff and the public to report any suspicious activity, such as someone being moved through the airport against their will, or not being allowed to answer questions about their travel themselves.

The reboot of Airport Watch in Cairns coincides with the rollout of Protection Operation Response Team (PORT) officers. The PORT members, who will begin to be seen around Cairns Airport, will be equipped short-barrelled rifles as well as body worn cameras. The rifles, Daniel Defense MK 18 SBRs, provide a greater strategic scope and accuracy over distance.

Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said the rollout of the rifles was not in response to any specific threat to community safety at airports or in Cairns.

"The rollout of this capability for our officers is designed to ensure Australia aligns with world-best-practice for counter terrorism first response activity. It is vital we are equipped to respond immediately with the appropriate resources to any situation in Australian airports," Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

This capability will allow officers to respond from a greater distance and when combined with rapidly evolving situations, will provide an additional layer of support for first responders.

Airport Watch and the PORT members will complement the AFP's existing capabilities, which include community policing and counterterrorism first response capability, air security officers,

joint intelligence teams and joint investigation teams, bomb appraisal officers and firearms and explosives detection canines.

Airport Watch, first launched in 2012, offers a hotline (131 AFP) for reporting unusual and concerning behaviour. For more on Airport Watch and the suspicious behaviour to look out for, visit the website.

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