The leader of an airport law enforcement group who has expressed concerns of safety vulnerabilities at Los Angeles International Airport has welcomed a review of airport security issues requested by a City Council member.
At a meeting Aug. 4 of the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which addressed claims that LAX remains vulnerable to terrorist attack, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the chair of the committee, called for a third party review of security at the airport. The concerns were noted in a June letter to Airport Police Chief George Centeno from Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, and Julie Butcher, director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) L.A. Cities division.
McClain claimed that cost-cutting reductions in the deployment of airport security officers combined with cuts to the budgets for training and the replacement of vehicles and equipment are “making LAX more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than at any time since 9/11.” The letter referred to a Rand Corporation study in 2004 that found the top three most likely attack scenarios at LAX are a large truck bomb, a curbside car bomb and a luggage bomb. In addition, McClain claimed that random vehicle checkpoints at the Central Terminal Area have been curtailed.
Explaining her request, Hahn referred to the airport’s recognized status as a top terror target in the region and said concerns from police who represent the area should be evaluated.
“While I have faith in the leadership and faith in our police officers, we also know that LAX is still a top target for terrorists and recent complaints from our airport police raise some concerns we should address,” Hahn said. “I would like to see a third party review of security measures so that we can make sure that this gateway is safe and secure.”
McClain said the police union has also wanted a review and hopes it will bring attention to their areas of concern.
“We welcome the audit; we think it will answer the questions that have been brought up,” McClain said. “We’re confident that the audit and the ongoing dialogue will address these concerns.”
The Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which includes Councilman Bill Rosendahl, is expected to consider how to proceed with the review next month. Rosendahl called the process a “work in progress,” saying the committee will try to determine if a full audit of security efforts is needed and he believes Hahn is on the right track by calling for the review.
He said both he and Councilman Dennis Zine met with airport Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey earlier this month to discuss the work of airport police and security measures in place.
“I want to make it clear that I think the airport police are doing a fantastic job,” Rosendahl said.
While Rosendahl had requested that city and airport officials meet with the airport police union to address their concerns, he said he feels McClain “pushed an alarm button too loudly” with his complaints stated in the letter. State Assemblyman Ted Lieu also responded to the police union claims saying he is disturbed at the complaints by first responders.
Airport officials have strongly disputed claims that LAX is vulnerable to attack and released figures showing that airport police staffing has increased 70 percent from 263 officers in 2002 to 447 today. Lindsey called the public safety allegations inaccurate and false in a memo to airport personnel and provided a chart to show how the police budget has nearly tripled in the last 10 years.
“It is my commitment to continue active and honest dialogue with the police officers association and the SEIU, which represents our security force, so that these and other internal issues are addressed,” Lindsey wrote.
“LAX is safe. It’s the safest it’s ever been. As many of you know, we have plans to make it even safer, including a new Airport Response Communications Center, installation of a new closed-circuit security camera system and the completion of a perimeter fence project.”
Rosendahl also pointed to the security measures implemented since 9/11 at LAX and said there have been a number of advancements, including improved coordination among the security agencies working there.
“A lot of the things done since 9/11 have been extraordinary,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way as an airport in the last few years.”
McClain said the union never disputed that there are more officers working at the airport today but explained that his concerns relate to how there is not an adequate number of police to handle their increasing tasks.
“We feel, and the SEIU feels, that we are being tasked to do more with less. We want to do more with more,” McClain told The Argonaut.
The police union president said his complaints are not connected with pushing for salary raises but he stressed that the airport is spending billions on projects over the next decade and security needs must have priority. He added that any audit of security must not only evaluate staffing of airport police but that of the Los Angeles Police Department sub-station.
“What we hope is not missing (in the audit) is a review of not just airport police staffing but also LAPD staffing,” he said.