A former veteran Santa Monica police officer has taken over as the new chief of police for the City of Los Angeles agency that operates four Southern California airports, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

George Centeno, a retired lieutenant who served with the Santa Monica Police Department for 28 years, was sworn in Friday, December 7th, by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as the sixth chief of police for the Airport Police Division of Los Angeles World Airports. Centeno had served as an assistant chief of police for Los Angeles World Airports since February.

Four members of the Airport Police Division’s executive command staff were also sworn in at the ceremony.

As the new Airport Police chief, Centeno will help lead law enforcement and security at LAX and three other airports, LA/Ontario International, LA/Palmdale Regional and Van Nuys general aviation.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for me and one that I don’t think comes across too often,” said Centeno, who grew up in Santa Monica and still lives on the Westside.

“I’m very fortunate and honored that director (James) Butts asked me to join the team at LAX.”

At the Airport Police Division, Centeno will again work with now-deputy executive director of Law Enforcement and Protection Services James Butts, who previously served as Santa Monica police chief for 15 years.

Familiar with Centeno’s service and experience, Butts called the new Airport Police chief the “ideal candidate.”

“The qualities he has that make him an excellent candidate are his natural leadership dynamic and great interpersonal skills,” Butts said. “He has a great sense of people and connects well with people.

“Chief Centeno is a proven law enforcement professional and valuable addition to our police executive team at LAWA.”

Centeno was selected in a nationwide recruitment process out of an original group of 64 candidates, Butts said.

“The appointment of Chief George Centeno and the new executive command team exemplifies our commitment to build a world-class airport police organization for the protection of our 68 million passengers who fly annually through the airports owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said at the swearing in ceremony.

Los Angeles World Airports executive director Gina Marie Lindsey added, “Our core business is to run our four airports safely and efficiently. Public safety is our number-one priority and the appointment of Chief Centeno and the executive command staff will help us continue to meet that goal.”

Butts noted that Centeno has an “extremely diverse police background.” Centeno first joined the Santa Monica police in 1972 as a cadet and after serving four years with the U.S. Air Force, he returned to the Santa Monica department, where he remained until 2005.

In Santa Monica, Centeno commanded a number of divisions, including Special Enforcement, Traffic Enforcement, Internal Affairs, Office of Operations and the Special Policing District. He was also the commander of the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team.

He was recognized for his longtime Santa Monica service with the department’s Medal of Courage and Life-Saving Medal.

A former Santa Monica colleague of Centeno’s, Lt. Alex Padilla, said he has a wide range of knowledge and experience and understands the concept of collaborating with local authorities to provide public safety.

“He has strong leadership skills and his experience and knowledge are going to benefit him as chief at the airports,” Padilla said.

In his new position with Airport Police, Centeno will be in charge of a much larger police agency than the Santa Monica Police Department. The Airport Police Division, which was established in 1946, is the fourth- largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County, with more than 1,200 law enforcement, security and staff personnel, including over 400 sworn police officers.

Centeno acknowledged that leading the airport force will have its challenges, as LAX is undergoing various modernization projects. With LAX being considered a top terrorist target in Southern California, Airport Police officers need to ensure that they do everything they can to keep the airport safe and secure, he said.

Centeno will also be responsible for collaborating with other law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD], which has a substation at LAX.

“I have nothing but praise and respect for the LAPD,” Centeno said. “They’re always willing to assist us with everything we need.”

Centeno received a Bachelor of Arts from California State University, Northridge and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

As he begins the next phase of his law enforcement career, Centeno said he welcomes the challenges that lie ahead.

“It’ll be a challenge to lead the men and women to provide continued safety… but I look forward to it,” Centeno said.

The four new members of the Airport Police division executive command staff include former Santa Monica police Lt. Frank Fabrega, who is the assistant chief for Traffic and Security Operations; Errol G. Southers, assistant chief for Intelligence and Emergency Operations; William Thompson, executive assistant chief of Administrative Services; and Brian A. Walker, who served as acting Airport Police chief for two years and is now deputy chief of the Office of Operations.