Escorts to the stars

May 18, 2006

Hordes of unruly celebrity worshippers have never been a problem at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. No swooning teens, no throngs of paparazzi. In fact, it's pretty safe to say the threat to public order posed by celebrities traveling through the airport is probably next to nothing.

Finally, we know why.

Turns out the Maryland Transportation Authority Police are on top of that action. A half-dozen officers have been trained to provide an armed escort to celebrities and other dignitaries as a free service to assist their travels. Well, not free exactly. There's no charge to the dignitary. Taxpayers get to pay the police officers' salaries.

This is a darn good deal for the celebrities, particularly since many of the individuals considered to be VIPs are strictly B-list. According to Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch make the cut. If members of the General Assembly make it, one can only imagine the proverbial red carpet reserved for Wild Bill Hagy or the Oriole Bird. ("Please step this way, Mr. Bird, and enjoy your flight.")

Chief McLhinney says the service has been offered long before his three-year tenure (although his predecessor disputes that) and is performed by officers who would be patrolling the building anyway. Its purpose, he adds, is not to convenience the glitterati but to "maintain order in the airport." This implies that an unescorted Deion Sanders (the past-his-Primetime former Ravens cornerback, for all you non-worshippers) would have led to hopeless pandemonium.

Let's say we have our doubts.

We understand that the typical duties of an MdTA police officer (rousting drunks from airport bars, giving directions to tourists) are pretty mundane. And if the airlines want to give a big-shot actor or sports star special treatment, that's fine, too. Yet as much as we love Cal Ripken Jr., we doubt he requires a taxpayer-financed police escort from limousine to gate.

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