Two elected officials representing Westside communities are calling for security issues at Los Angeles International Airport to be reviewed after the leader of a group representing airport law enforcement claimed that the airport remains vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and state Assemblyman Ted Lieu have both requested that city and airport officials meet with the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association to address concerns expressed regarding security at the LAX terminals. The concerns were noted in a June letter to Airport Police Chief George Centeno from Marshall McClain, president of the airport police union and Julie Butcher, director of the Service Employees International Union L.A. Cities division.
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.”
The letter referred to a Rand Corporation study in 2004 that found the top three most likely attack scenarios at LAX are a large truck bomb, a curbside car bomb and a luggage bomb. In addition, McClain claimed that the permanent vehicle checkpoint program has not advanced beyond the design phase and random checkpoints at the Central Terminal Area have been curtailed in recent months.
Lieu responded to the claims in a letter to Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, saying that he is extremely disturbed at the complaints by first responders.
“Local first responders are often in the best position to know when something is not right, and they are the frontline for terrorism prevention,” Lieu wrote. “It is cause for alarm when those at the tip of the spear allege that LAX is more vulnerable than it has been, or needs to be.”
In response to the airport police union and SEIU letter, Rosendahl said the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee is scheduled to address the security issue with officials of each of the organizations at a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 4. While Rosendahl believes there have been “tremendous” security improvements at LAX in his five years on the council, he said the meeting will allow the public to be better informed of the efforts done.
“We know LAX is a target; we’ve known that since 9/11. But there have been dramatic steps to improve (airport security),” said Rosendahl, referring to increases in police staffing and improved security screening. “We want the public to know that we’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure it’s the safest airport in America.”
McClain said he was pleased to have elected leaders respond to the union’s concerns but he wishes it didn’t take their involvement to draw attention to the issue.
“It is unfortunate and disheartening that it takes this to get our police chief and airport security coordinator to act,” McClain said.
Airport officials have strongly denied claims of security cutbacks, releasing figures showing that airport police staffing has increased 70 percent from 263 officers in 2002 to 447 today and the police budget, which has risen annually since 9/11, increased 3.5 percent from last year, with an increase of 1.6 percent in police salaries. Among the cuts reported was in overtime funding, which decreased 4.4 percent.
Officials pointed to a number of security enhancements including perimeter security fencing and planter barriers installed at key locations, and noted that the remote vehicle checkpoint program remains fully funded.
“There is no evidence to support allegations by LAAPOA and SEIU of budget reductions or staff cutbacks at LAX Airport Police,” Lindsey stated. “LAX remains one of the safest airports in the world and one of the safest areas in Southern California due to LAWA’s continuing commitment to staff, train and equip airport police.”
Airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles added that the police budget increase does not include money spent on new police motorcycles and cars, maintenance of those vehicles and fuel, which is part of the fleet maintenance budget. She said officials are looking forward to defending the actions made to ensure safety at one of the world’s busiest airports.
“We welcome the opportunity to describe our airport security program to the City Council committee,” Castles said.