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Navy tightens screening, worker placed on leave after Norfolk shooting

Linehandlers standby as the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan prepares to moor at Naval Station Norfolk on June 8, 2011, following a seven-month deployment.

A civilian police officer has been placed on leave and the Navy is boosting security measures at bases from Virginia to Maine after last week's shooting aboard the destroyer Mahan.

The guard who allowed the shooter onto Norfolk Naval Station was a federal police officer, not a sailor or a contractor, officials said Monday.

Everyone entering a base in the service's mid-Atlantic region using a transportation worker credential - the kind Jeffrey Savage showed before he shot and killed a sailor - now must be checked against a federal crime database.

Until last week, those checks weren't mandatory. Navy policy permitted truck drivers to enter with the credential and proof of their business on the base.

It isn't clear why Savage was allowed in. The 35-year-old convicted felon had no legitimate reason to be at Norfolk Naval Station on March 24, according to authorities.

Driving a tractor-trailer cab, he used a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC card, to get past a main gate and a checkpoint at Pier 1, where the Mahan is moored. About 11:20 p.m., Savage boarded the ship. After a female sailor standing guard stopped him on the deck, he managed to take her gun. He used it to shoot and kill 24-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo, a Navy guard who was patrolling the pier and rushed to intervene.

The new security measures, which the Navy said started Thursday, call for the names of all TWIC card users to be checked against a federal database, the National Crime Information Center. Base guards are turning away anyone with an outstanding warrant, a felony conviction in the past 10 years or a violent misdemeanor in the past five. Habitual offenders, sex offenders and people with drug or larceny convictions also aren't being allowed in, officials said.

Criteria to obtain a TWIC card are less strict.

Already, drivers are lamenting longer waits to get on base.

"Some people have been turned away," said Beth Baker, a spokeswoman for the Navy's mid-Atlantic region.

The new measures would have kept out Savage, who served prison time for a drug offense and voluntary manslaughter; he shot and killed a friend during a 2005 argument.

The Navy also has increased random checks, such as vehicle searches, officials said. The changes were ordered by the region's commander, Rear Adm. Dixon Smith.

In addition to an investigation being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Navy has launched an inquiry that will "explore in detail how (Savage) accessed the base, including whether the gate sentry complied with access control procedures in effect at the time," the service said in a Monday news release.

Officials declined to say whether any Mahan sailors had been disciplined. It was the ship's job to staff the Pier 1 checkpoint.

Officials have not given a motive or said why they believe Savage was on the base - if they know. They've said only that they don't think he planned the attack, and he walked onto the Mahan unarmed.

Savage only recently had become a truck driver; he got his TWIC card earlier this year. The credentials are issued by the Transportation Security Administration and allow unescorted access to secure ports and military installations.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, has not responded to repeated inquiries about the TWIC program.

Savage's body was transferred from Portsmouth Naval Medical Center to a funeral home Friday. His funeral is today.

The Navy is planning a memorial service for Mayo on April 7 at Norfolk Naval Station.

Pilot writer Bill Sizemore contributed to this report.

 

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