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Council to Study LAX Shooting Response

Violence: Agencies will report on their reaction amid calls to merge airport police, LAPD.

July 10, 2002|JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City Councilman Jack Weiss called Tuesday for a report within two weeks on how police, firefighters and airport officials responded to the fatal Fourth of July shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.

Weiss also said he wants to explore whether the LAPD should be merged with the airport police department, which answers to the city agency that operates LAX. Both the airport police and the Los Angeles Police Department operate at LAX, with the airport police working to prevent crime there and the LAPD responding primarily when a crime occurs.

"We have to ask whether two divisions make sense," Weiss said. "I'm not suggesting that anything improper was done. I'm just asking for the city to take a fresh, independent look at this."

The city's Emergency Preparedness Department, airport agency staff and the LAPD will be asked to submit "after-action" reports on their responses to the shooting. Reports on combining the police agencies are due from the LAPD and the airport agency within two months.

The investigation into the shooting continued Tuesday, as federal and local law enforcement officials pursued information they hope will explain Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Hadayet's motive for opening fire at a ticket counter being used by El Al Airlines. Officials are exploring several possibilities, including terrorism, a hate crime or a random act of violence.

There remained no indication, however, that Hadayet had connections to terrorists or terrorist causes, a law enforcement source said.

In interviews with City Council members, law enforcement agencies and security experts, most agreed that the city's response to the LAX shooting was adequate, although some spoke of tension between the LAPD and the FBI over which agency had jurisdiction in the criminal investigation. The FBI typically heads airport investigations that might involve terrorism.

Mitzi Grasso, president of the Police Protective League, said the LAPD probably should consider taking over the airport police force. She commended the airport police, however, for their handling of the shooting. And she praised the cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

"Everything went very smoothly," she said. "The LAPD worked very well with the airport police, with the FBI, and El Al security was phenomenal."

The July 4 shooting in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which left three dead and several wounded, led several lawmakers, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), to call for increased security in airport ticket lobbies. The federal Transportation Security Administration, the agency charged with airport security, said it planned before the LAX shooting to deploy its uniformed and undercover officers throughout airports. The agency hasn't set a deadline for deployment, however.

Mayor James K. Hahn will announce at an airport news conference today that he will require the city agency that operates LAX to hire off-duty LAPD officers to supplement airport police. LAPD officers will be stationed at security checkpoints to free up airport police to patrol the terminal areas.

"The traveling public will see a very heightened armed presence in the public terminal area," said Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards. "We want a stronger show of force."

Off-duty LAPD officers will remain in place until 60 airport police officers hired since the Sept. 11 attacks report for duty in January.

Those personnel will supplement 240 sworn officers and 200 unarmed security officers now patrolling LAX grounds. The LAPD now has 74 officers stationed at LAX.

Hahn, who as recently as Friday said he didn't believe that the airport police and the LAPD should be consolidated, supports further study of the issue, Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook said Tuesday.

Police Commission President Rick Caruso has called for a merger of the two agencies, saying it would lead to a more efficient use of limited city resources.

"I'm firmly convinced, just from a citizen's point of view, it's the right thing to do," Caruso said.

"I don't hear anyone giving me a reason why you should have two different police forces--from a whole training standpoint there should be one police force."

Caruso said he has requested reports that were completed in 1998 when former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks called for consolidation of all of the city's law enforcement agencies.

The council later rejected his request. Caruso hopes to bring a proposal to merge the two police entities before the commission later this year.

Parks' proposal, known as "One City--One Police Department," was the latest in a series of debates over the last decade about whether the airport police should be combined with the LAPD.

The organizations were nearly merged in 1992, but the plan was delayed because of negative publicity surrounding the LAPD, according to a white paper on the issue drafted by the city agency that operates the airport.

The airport police department was established in 1946 and given full authority to patrol the airport in 1968 because the LAPD didn't have the resources to keep an eye on the airfield and the facility's perimeter and to hand out traffic citations, airport officials said.

Airport police receive specialized training, including 22 weeks at the Police Academy and an additional 23 weeks to learn Federal Aviation Administration regulations, according to the white paper.

Completing a merger of the two agencies won't be easy: According to the City Charter adopted by voters in 2000, such a plan would require an amendment to the charter and voter approval.

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Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Tina Daunt, Greg Krikorian and Beth Shuster contributed to this report.

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