The Virginia Port Authority plans to cut 45 of its 71 sworn police officers by next June and replace them with contract security guards in an effort to save money.

The cuts will be accomplished through a combination of early retirement offers and layoffs and are expected save the port authority between $1 million and $2 million per year, says a Newport News Daily Press report.

"Under the port authority's plan, police officers who work the gates of the region's marine cargo terminals would be replaced with unarmed security guards. A small team of sworn police officers would remain to patrol the areas inside the gates," the report says.

The port authority said the move has nothing to do with the performance of the police force and is "solely rooted in economics, and is an unfortunate byproduct of a soft economy," the report says.

If the port authority follows through on the promised layoffs, it will lose its veteran police chief, Andrew Engemann, who has pledged to resign as the port's top cop, a position he has held for nearly six years, the report says.

Aside from losing the police chief, the move to slash nearly two-thirds of the force could weaken security at the cargo terminals and make the port more vulnerable to crime and targeted attacks, the article says.

"Officers, who are paid an average salary of about $40,600 a year, are in charge of perimeter security and traffic enforcement and assist federal agencies like Customs and Border Protection and the FBI on investigations," the article says.