Having overseen the country’s largest airport law enforcement and security organization for more than three years, James Butts, Jr. has announced his plan to leave Los Angeles World Airports at the end of the year.
In a memo issued to airport police personnel earlier this month, Butts said he will step down as deputy executive director of law enforcement and protection services effective December 31st. The position was newly created in August 2006, when Butts first joined Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and three other regional airports.
He came to the airport department after serving 15 years as Santa Monica police chief.
Prior to Butts’ arrival, the airport police division management was led by four captains and the police chief. As deputy executive director of law enforcement, Butts has been in charge of more than 1,200 sworn and civilian personnel and coordinated duties performed by more than 4,000 federal and local officers.
He has been responsible for security planning regarding the airports’ physical and technological infrastructure and has served as LAWA’s intergovernmental counterterrorism liaison, airport officials said.
Butts did not give any specific reasons for his planned resignation in the memo, but he outlined a number of department achievements that have helped it become a leader in airport policing.
“We have established ourselves as leaders in implementing technology and as a premier respected, trusted, professional law enforcement organization,” Butts said in the memo. “We have been embraced by the intelligence community on a local, state and federal level as a key partner in the prevention of terrorism.”
The director also referred to the transition of the airport police agency during his tenure in an interview with The Argonaut.
“We went from being the target of exposés when I came in to being the preeminent airport security and law enforcement program in the nation,” Butts said.
After learning of Butts’ resignation, city officials also spoke of the changes he has made in the department.
“The departure of Jim Butts will undoubtedly be felt at LAWA,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, airport executive director. “Over the past several years, his leadership and vision have transformed our police organization into a disciplined, professional, effective and unified agency.
“During his tenure, Jim reorganized the leadership of LAWA’s safety and security work. In doing so, he created a new internal capacity and a competent executive command team that enable the current structure.”
City Councilman Bill Rosen-dahl called Butts “an incredible leader and inspirational guy” who helped lead LAX to become one of the nation’s top-rated airports by homeland security officials.
“He made a huge contribution to the change (at LAX),” Rosen-dahl said. “I know he will be great wherever he goes. I expect to see more significant opportunities for him going forward.”
Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, said that while he was initially excited in learning of Butts’ appointment as director, given his experience as police chief, the relationship between the director and union was “tumultuous.” The union has filed several lawsuits under Butts’ command and is ready for a change of leadership, McClain said.
In his memo, Butts listed various achievements over the last three years, including bringing in a new management team with Chief George Centeno, completing an assessment of LAWA’s security vulnerabilities and switching to common recruitment and academy training with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Centeno, who also came to the agency from Santa Monica, said he will miss Butts’ leadership but believes the “foundation of a solid airport agency has been set.”
“When you lose a leader of his skill level, you can’t help but feel the void for a while; however, I believe he put a very competent executive team in place to continue to move this agency forward,” Centeno said.
Butts told The Argonaut that he is proud of how the agency improved its security profile and he believes it has put a technological blueprint in place for the future.
“I’m extremely proud of the employees, both sworn and civilian, and of how we became a more effective organization,” he said.
According to the memo, Butts’ position will not be filled upon his departure but rather absorbed by Centeno and assistant chiefs. The director says he has great confidence in Centeno’s ability to move the department forward.
After 37 years in law enforcement, Butts added that he is continuing to evaluate his options following his resignation.