Tampa International Airport Police Corporal Cheryl Porter has been sure of her path since she was in sixth grade.
She vividly recalls the moment when a law enforcement officer visited her class on career day at West Gate Christian School in Tampa.
“I was fascinated with police and law enforcement,” says Porter. “I knew right then that’s what I was going to do.”
Porter worked as a detention deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office while earning her law enforcement certification. She joined TIA’s Police Department in 2005, and was assigned to the Professional Standards Unit in 2011. She was promoted to corporal in 2013.
She begins each day at 5:30 a.m.
It’s a day that involves roll calls, meetings and assignment scheduling -- as well as foot and vehicle patrols, investigations, lost and found, special operations and more.
The Tampa International Airport Police Department is responsible for ensuring visitors to TIA have a safe travel experience. Porter is currently the only female corporal on the force.
She and her squad handle calls similar to other police departments. They can range from disturbances, to traffic stops and accidents, to theft and violent crimes, like fighting, domestic violence and battery.
“We are trained to handle any and every situation that comes our way,” Porter says. “We train in defensive tactics, firearms and we do a yearly physical assessment test to make sure we have the physical capabilities to carry out our job.”
Even with the help of hundreds of security cameras, it’s not an easy job for 62 officers to patrol an airport that welcomes more than 18 million travelers a year.
"It’s about being visible and being able to spot situations before they get out of hand,” says the Town ‘N Country native. “You have to be alert and aware of your surroundings at all times. You also have to treat people fairly and you have to communicate.”
That’s true regardless of whether the encounter involves a passenger stranded at the airport with no money and no place to go, a homeless man who has wandered in from the cold, or a passenger suffering from mental distress.
Porter finds her work gratifying.
“I really enjoy interacting with patrons,” she says. “It’s all about customer service and public safety.”
Helping to keep traffic flowing has become an even greater priority since crews began the airport’s expansion.
“Traffic can stress anyone out,” Porter says. “There have been some adjustments due to construction, but we’ve alleviated a lot of the traffic issues.”
Porter, who has been married for two years to Canine officer Bob Porter, says she doesn’t mind going the extra mile to make patrons feel safe and comfortable. And who knows, maybe the uniform she wears will inspire other young girls to choose a career in law enforcement.
“I remember an 8-year-old girl who saw me coming up the escalator in my uniform and how excited she was to see me,” says Porter. “One of my male officers looked at her and said, ‘And she’s my boss.’ It was a wonderful feeling to have had such a positive impact on her.”
“Some people, when they see us coming, they don't feel that way,” Porter says. “I hope I can change that."