An independent panel is being assembled to review various security issues at Los Angeles International Airport.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called for a “blue ribbon” panel to conduct a top-to-bottom security review of LAX in regards to homeland security, counterterrorism, law enforcement and the available resources for safety enhancements, a spokesman for the mayor said. The plan for the panel was announced at a meeting of the City Council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee earlier this month.
Though it has not been determined who exactly will make up the review board, the mayor’s spokesman said experts from Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel are expected to participate to give advice on maintaining state-of-the-art security at LAX. Representatives from Ben Gurion have offered security recommendations during previous visits to the airport.
The panel comes after Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, and Julie Butcher, director of the Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, expressed safety concerns early this summer in a letter to Airport Police Chief George Centeno. 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.”
In early August City Councilwoman Janice Hahn called for a third party review of LAX security, saying she hopes to make sure that the gateway to the city is safe and secure.
“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 in explaining her request.
Airport officials have strongly disputed claims that LAX is vulnerable to attack and released figures showing that airport police staffing has increased 70 percent since 2002. Airport Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey has additionally reported that the police budget has nearly tripled in the last decade.
McClain said he has some concerns about how the independent panel is being formed and wondered if the mayor was selecting the members himself. The airport police union president wants to ensure that the review findings do not lead to a possible ballot measure seeking to merge the Airport Police with the Los Angeles Police Department at LAX.
Studies have been performed on airport security, he said, and they found that the airport is better served with its own dedicated police force.
“What it needs to focus on is having stop gaps put in place to ensure that police and securityÖ at all the airports stays paramount,” McClain said.
“We want to do more with more.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said there is an extremely sophisticated and coordinated strategy in place at LAX, and the mayor’s plan for a security review “can only be a plus.” While Rosendahl said a number of security measures have been implemented since 9/11, officials need to remain vigilant to ensure safety at the airport.
“It will always be of interest to keep that place safe,” he said.
Villaraigosa hopes to have the panel submit its findings by the winter.