Los Angeles International Airport is safer today than it was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but more could be done to further improve security at the nation’s third busiest airport, a security report has found.
In a comprehensive security review of LAX released Nov. 2, a blue ribbon panel on airport security found that safety has improved in part due to $1.6 billion in investments over the last decade. However, the panel provided various recommendations to continue enhancing security at LAX, which is considered a top terrorist target on the West Coast.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who noted that a vast majority of the recommendations have been implemented or are in progress, has created a 10-point security plan to address all recommendations in the report.
“This report confirms what we have known to be true: LAX is safe and is safer today than it was following 9/11,” Villaraigosa said.
“But I appointed this panel because we are committed to making LAX the safest, most secure airport in its class around the world. We have already implemented or are in progress of implementing a vast majority of the panel’s recommendations and we will be taking concrete steps to further enhance security and protect the flying public.”
The mayor convened the 27-member panel – which consisted of professionals in homeland security, law enforcement, anti-terrorism and emergency management – last year after the leader of a group representing airport law enforcement expressed concerns regarding LAX safety. Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association, had claimed that cost-cutting reductions in the deployment of airport security officers and cuts to the budgets for training and the replacement of vehicles and equipment were “making LAX more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than at any time since 9/11.”
Among the recommendations in the mayor’s action plan are enhancing collaboration between the airport police and Los Angeles Police Department at LAX, updating emergency management procedures, and upgrading physical security at the airport.
Noting that $1.6 billion in improvements were done since 9/11, Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said airport safety is her number one priority. Airport officials pointed out that the number of police officers at LAX has jumped from 517 before 9/11 to 767 currently.
“We intend to remain a very safe and secure airport. To do so, we must be vigilant in our public safety efforts, evolve our security measures to meet emerging threats and constantly evaluate whether we are doing the right things in the right way,” Lindsey said.
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Venice), who sought to address the security issues when she served on the City Council, said the blue ribbon panel report provides guidance for officials to move forward.
“As a member of the Los Angeles City Council, I called for an independent, comprehensive review of security at LAX,” Hahn said. “I’m proud to see the panel found all the work we have done over the years to be effective.”
One of the panel’s key public safety recommendations was the reestablishment of the deputy director for law enforcement and homeland security position. In releasing the report, Villaraigosa announced the post will be filled by Arif Alikhan, who will oversee security and public safety matters at LAWA and will work with the police agencies at LAX.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area, said he was pleased the report found the airport is safer due to the investments made, and he agrees that more improvements are needed because terrorism is a very sophisticated threat.
“LAX is a target and we can never make it too safe; we will be forever vigilant on that,” he said.
While the councilman said he is still in favor of separation between the airport police and LAPD at LAX, he supports the report’s suggestion of creating greater cooperation and coordination between the two police agencies working at the airport.
“I’m happy to see a general consensus of all those involved in the report that we are safe at the airport, but that there needs to be more coordination between the police agencies,” Rosendahl said.
Noting that much of the report released to the public was redacted for security reasons, Rosendahl presented a motion requesting the mayor’s office and LAWA to report in a closed session meeting of the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee on the findings and recommendations of the blue ribbon panel.
McClain of the airport police union called the report’s suggestion that there is a dispute on the working relationship between airport police and LAPD “completely false and baseless.” One of the union’s primary issues of concern regarding safety is having outdated equipment, said McClain, noting that no new police vehicles have been purchased at LAX since 2006.
“In terms of the issues surrounding security, we’ve said from the beginning that we pride ourselves in our work but we want to do things better,” he said.
McClain said the union was in favor of the proposal for returning the deputy director of law enforcement position and added that the group’s concerns with the airport police chief’s leadership were in line with what the panel found. Airport Police Chief George Centeno has announced his retirement at the beginning of next year.
“What we do want to make sure is that airport officials are committed to doing an actual true hard target search…for someone who can come in and will be qualified to do the job of chief of police,” McClain said.