LAX: Bill to expand authority of Airport Police heads to governor
By Vince Echavaria
Legislation that would give Los Angeles Airport Police the same authority as other local police agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, has moved on to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.
Assembly Bill (AB) 128, authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Westchester), which would expand the law enforcement powers of the police agency that patrols four Southern California airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, received the approval of the state Senate and Assembly after prior versions failed at the committee level.
Under the legislation, the Los Angeles World Airports police division would be reclassified from California Penal Code 830.22(d) to 830.1 status, a recommendation by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The LAPD, which operates out of a substation at LAX, and Los Angeles Port Police are currently classified as 830.1 agencies, identifying them as peace officers.
Bradford noted that with their existing classification, airport police officers lack the legal authority to perform rather routine duties such as seizing firearms at the scene of a domestic violence case, removing unsafe vehicles off the street, seizing explosive and incendiary devices, possessing explosives for canine training and enforcing laws related to false bomb reports. In some emergencies, airport police may have to call LAPD for assistance with such functions, said Bradford, who represents the 62nd District, which includes LAX.
“For years now these officers have been the victims of politics. I am pleased they will now enjoy the legal distinction befitting their training and service,” Bradford said.
Referring to prior attempts that have fallen short, Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, said the union is pleased to finally have wide support for the status change from the state Legislature. “It’s been a longtime coming; we’re elated,” he said, adding that the Senate’s approval on the anniversary of 9/11 was particularly meaningful.
The bill had received the backing of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and current Mayor Eric Garcetti, McClain noted. He credited the recent success in the Legislature in large part to the “tenacity” of Bradford to carry on the fight.
The goal of the classification upgrade is to ensure that Airport Police can be the best law enforcement force at all aspects, and that LAX, which is considered a top terrorist target on the West Coast, has the best law enforcement agencies to protect it, McClain explained.
Airport police officers undergo the same training and hiring practices as LAPD and attend the same police academy, the airport police union president said.
“We just wanted to make sure we weren’t having to divert LAPD resources from their primary function, which is the city of L.A., to the airport, for things that we’re already trained to handle,” he said.
Bradford concurred that a primary focus of the measure is to enhance security at the airports.
“LAX officers protect 65 million passengers every year,” the assemblyman said. “It is about time they get all the tools necessary to do the job of protecting our nation’s third-busiest airport.”
McClain acknowledged that the 830.1 peace officer classification for airport police comes with a “definite level of respect.” He stressed that because Airport Police is a proprietary agency funded by airport revenue, no city or state taxes will be used to enact the status change.
Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon said while the new classification would not dramatically change his department’s role, he believes it would grant officers authority they previously lacked.
“It’s really a matter or respect for the type of work that they do,” Gannon said. “This is a full-fledged law enforcement agency that should be recognized as such and by a quirk of the law, as it stands right now, they don’t have that.”
“It puts you on par with everybody else in the region and with their counterparts at the port who also have it. I think it enhances the partnerships that are there.”
Opponents of the bill have argued that there is no need for such a reclassification measure. McClain claimed that opposition has been primarily expressed from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing LAPD officers, which he said argues that the airport would be best patrolled solely by LAPD. A prior measure to merge the LAPD and Airport Police forces at LAX was rejected by city voters.
Police Protective League President Tyler Izen could not be reached for comment on AB 128.
McClain said he is confident that the bill will receive the governor’s signature, noting that it fulfills the recommendations of POST, a board whose members are appointed by the governor.