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Los Angeles

Safety Officials Call for More Equipment, Staff

January 29, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city's public safety officials said Monday that Los Angeles needs to boost its terrorism preparedness, calling for an additional $7.5 million in new equipment, training and staff.

"It's critical at this time that we ensure that we in the city of Los Angeles make preparations for terrorism and make anti-terrorist capabilities a local priority," City Councilman Jack Weiss said at a news conference at City Hall with Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and Fire Chief William Bamattre.

"If something happens here in the Southern California region, it will be men and women from the L.A. Fire Department and the L.A. Police Department who will be called upon to respond. So we need to make sure they have the tools they need to do their jobs."

The officials are seeking an additional urban search and rescue team, a third hazmat unit, additional staffing at the county's Terrorism Early Warning Group, more bomb squad training, explosives-sniffing dogs, and a new disaster-preparedness unit in the Fire Department.

The recommendations came out of a task force assembled by Weiss after the September terrorism attacks to evaluate the city's ability to respond to terrorist threats. On Monday, the city's Emergency Operations Board endorsed the requests.

But finding money in the city's budget to pay for the new equipment, training and staff may be difficult. The city is suffering a revenue shortfall because of a decline in tourism and increased security costs. By July, the city's security tab is expected to hit at least $45 million.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn was not optimistic that the new measures could be paid for out of the city budget.

"'Obviously, we're in very short supply of money these days, and we're belt-tightening all around the city," Hahn said Monday during a visit to Brentwood. "I'd love to do it if we can find the money."

Hahn added that the proposals could be funded by the federal government if Congress approves President Bush's recent proposal to spend $3.5 billion on homeland security in 2003.

But other officials said the measures must be taken sooner.

"I don't think we can sit back in this city and wait for the federal government to fund something and put our own safety in jeopardy," Parks said.

Bamattre noted that much of the additional staffing is so important that the police and fire departments have been doing it through overtime.

"We've had an ongoing program of preparedness, but we have to keep our guard up," he said.

Weiss acknowledged that the price tag is steep, but said terrorism preparedness should be the city's top priority.

"The world changed on Sept. 11, and those of us in local government need to face up to that and face up to our new responsibilities," Weiss said. "It is necessary but not sufficient that we rely on federal funding."

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