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Bratton to Review Police Merger Plan

Former Chief Parks proposed four years ago that the LAPD and LAX forces be combined. The idea was rejected by the City Council.

November 06, 2002|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

A proposal to merge the police force that patrols Los Angeles International Airport with the LAPD gained momentum Tuesday when Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton agreed to review a 4-year-old plan to consolidate the two departments.

Bratton will discuss the issue with the city Police Commission after a 30-day review. The move is the latest in a series of debates over the last decade about the idea, revived by former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks in his 1998 "One City -- One Police Department" proposal.

The City Council ultimately rejected Parks' plan, which suggests that the Los Angeles Police Department take over the policing functions performed by eight independent city authorities including the Harbor Department Port Police, the Park Rangers of the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Department of Water and Power Security Services Business Group.

The city's new police chief has faced questions regarding the role of specialized forces before. During his tenure as New York City's police commissioner, Bratton took control of forces operated by the city's housing and transit departments. Officers working for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, who patrol the city's airports, remained independent.

In L.A., the issue reemerged after a grisly Fourth of July shooting at LAX when several public safety officials argued that merging the LAPD and the airport police would eliminate communication snafus and costly duplication of resources.

"You can't have a coordinated effort when you have two levels of command," Police Commission President Rick Caruso said Tuesday. "One of the city's most important assets is LAX, and LAPD officers are better trained and equipped to deal with issues at the airport."

With the backing of Mayor James K. Hahn and the council's Public Safety Committee, interim Chief Martin Pomeroy recommended in an Oct. 15 memo that the commission reconsider Parks' proposal. Councilman Jack Weiss, who sits on the public safety panel, reiterated his support for a review on Tuesday.

"It doesn't matter whether the LAPD or the airport police write more parking tickets," he said. "The real test is if and when a real attack occurs at LAX. If there's one thing we've learned about Al Qaeda, it is that they do not take targets off their target list.

The review could prompt a showdown between the Police Commission and Airport Commission, which unanimously approved a strongly worded resolution last summer that allows the airport agency to retain control of an autonomous police force as provided by the City Charter. Merging the airport police and the LAPD would require a charter amendment and voter approval.

"This issue has been studied numerous times, including studying Chief Parks' proposal, and the conclusion was that the safety of our passengers at LAX is better served by having the airport police," Airport Commission President Ted Stein said Tuesday.

In addition, airport police officers receive special training, he said. This includes 22 weeks at the Police Academy and an additional 23 weeks to learn Federal Aviation Administration regulations, according to a white paper drafted by the city agency that operates LAX.

Airport police work to prevent crime at LAX; the LAPD responds primarily when a crime occurs. Airport police have about 240 sworn officers and 200 unarmed security officers at LAX. The LAPD has 74 officers stationed there, and 60 off-duty officers who are paid overtime by the city's airport agency to patrol airport grounds until they're relieved by additional airport police officers early next year.

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