As airport security has made headlines with recent events, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa touted safety measures in place at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for helping make the airport a security leader.

After a security briefing with multiple law enforcement agencies at LAX Tuesday, January 5th, the mayor said the airport is “ahead of the curve” with efforts in effect such as full body imaging, inline baggage screening, bomb sniffing canines and random vehicle checkpoints.

“We are continuing to be vigilant and we are continuing to lead the way in innovation and technology,” Villaraigosa said during a news conference at the Tom Bradley International Terminal. “From our cooperation with federal agencies, to our implementation of full body imaging and inline baggage screening, we have approached security from every angle to make LAX a leader in airport safety and security.”

Villaraigosa also pointed to the installation of large planters outside the terminals to act as physical barriers against possible explosives and added that vehicle checkpoints occur on a daily basis. While the airport has taken a number of steps since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks to protect the safety of the 61 million annual passengers at LAX, the city continues to work to improve security, the mayor said.

“We want to send a message that we are constantly looking for ways to improve on our safety record,” he said. “Security will remain our top priority here at this airport.”

Such initiatives include calling for full body image screening on a wider basis and increasing the use of bomb sniffing dogs, Villaraigosa said. The security briefing came after an incident on Christmas Day in which a Northwest Airlines passenger allegedlyattempted to use an explosive device on a flight arriving in Detroit and a man was reportedly seen bypassing security at a terminal at Newark International Airport January 3rd.

Villaraigosa noted that security experts consider LAX to be a top terrorist target on the West Coast as the fifth busiest airport in the world and a $70 billion contributor toward the Southern California economy.

The Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association praised Villaraigosa for being committed to high airport safety standards and pledging to not reduce the presence of airport police.

“LAX will be safer for travelers and employees in 2010 because of the mayor’s pledge to increase airport police staffing while harnessing new technologies such as full body scanners,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain said.

The airport police officers union has called for large-scale implementation of full body scanning machines at LAX, saying that metal detectors at security checkpoints are not enough. Though LAX is one of 19 airports using the body scanners, they are now mostly applied during secondary screening, according to the union.

“Testing of whole-body scanners at LAX has shown them to be highly effective in keeping dangerous materials off airplanes,” McClain said.

“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should be allowed to rapidly expand to 100 percent the population of airline passengers screened with the next-generation equipment. All available technology and tools must be used to fix an obvious gap in security that puts airline travelers and crewmembers at risk.”

Referring to privacy concerns regarding the equipment, the police association said that TSA has established specific procedures to protect passengers’ anonymity. The mayor said that the body screening is not nearly as invasive as some may believe and called the process “another tool” for detecting potential threats.

Airport Police Chief George Centeno also supports wider use of the technology but noted there are concerns that it could create delays in the screening process. He attributed the advancements in security at LAX to the partnerships Airport Police have formed with local, state and federal agencies.

“LAX is considered one of the leaders in airport security due to the continuing combined efforts of over 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers at the airport,” Centeno said.

TSA Federal Security Director Larry Fetters also spoke on the significance of partnerships, saying that TSA must work with other agencies to fulfill its mission of protecting the safety of travelers.

“This is truly a unified effort everyday,” he said.

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