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Davis Beefs Up Security Statewide

The governor orders 24-hour air surveillance and doubles patrols of potential targets.

March 18, 2003|Dan Morain and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis, concerned about terrorist attacks in California if the U.S. begins bombing Iraq, announced plans Monday to double patrols around potential targets, move state police to 12-hour shifts and begin 24-hour air surveillance.

The move came as government agencies statewide braced for war with Iraq.

Public schools in Los Angeles, which routinely have stockpiles of food and water to last for three days, reviewed emergency plans at each campus on Monday.

Random vehicle searches were underway at Los Angeles International Airport and other airports, triggered by the heightening of the national security alert, from yellow to orange. And Los Angeles Police Department detectives, normally in plain clothes, will switch to uniforms to increase police visibility.

Appearing shortly after President Bush addressed the nation, Davis said law enforcement agencies are moving to a heightened state of readiness, but also urged that people continue going about their routines.

"Californians need not be unduly anxious," Davis said, flanked by police, national guardsmen and his top security aides. "We're doing everything humanly possible to protect each and every one of you."

The governor said the increased patrols would focus on major bridges, airports, the state water system and power plants.

His top security official, George Vinson, said the state Department of Health Services is monitoring for signs of biological or chemical terrorism, and the Department of Food and Agriculture has increased surveillance of the food supply.

"I know it is troubling to people to hear we have a problem and to go about their lives, but we have no choice in this post- 9/11 world," Davis said.

In Southern California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and local FBI office said they were ready to take their emergency operations centers around the clock. The city of Los Angeles' operation will be up and running no later than Wednesday morning, officials said. In Orange County, officials were still deciding whether to open their emergency center.

The start of a war also would trigger increased security at about 550 sites considered high risk by the LAPD.

At the start of military action, FBI agents would begin "information-sharing" discussions with Southern California's vast Islamic community, particularly Iraqis, said a top counter-terrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"There are no plans for a roundup or a dragnet," the official said. "These are plans to conduct mutually agreeable interviews to see if individuals are hearing things that may be useful" in combating terrorism or prosecuting a war with Iraq.

The preparations -- some last-minute, some long-planned -- came as local political leaders and law enforcement officials warned citizens that everyone must be vigilant.

The fear is the possibility that the West Coast could be hit with terrorist attacks such as those that struck New York City and Washington.

"It would be naive not to hear the words of Saddam Hussein, who says that he is going to fight back, and that means all of his operatives and sympathizers who are active in support of terrorism," said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

"This is going to be a very tense time, and to not be prepared and mindful of a potential attack is irresponsible."

As has been the case since the terrorist attacks 18 months ago, possible threats remain vague. Local officials, like national leaders, have attempted to balance realism against unnecessarily panicking people.

"It's just our belief that it raises the stakes somewhat, that if our country is engaged in military action against Saddam Hussein that that might provoke some response," Mayor James K. Hahn said Monday. "It's merely speculation on our part."

At the same time, hurried requests from city leaders for more supplies underscored the seriousness of the situation.

Hahn asked the City Council on Monday for a $5.9-million emergency allocation to buy radiation detectors and biochemical protection suits for police officers and firefighters.

"The safety and security of our residents is dependent upon the capacity of our first responders to deal with any kind of emergency," Hahn wrote to the council. "These goals cannot be accomplished, however, if a significant number of first responders do not have the necessary personal protective equipment."

The emergency funding package would buy masks, filters, coveralls and gloves for 8,000 police officers, 2,250 protective suits for firefighters and 3,330 radiological detectors.

The proposal comes a week after Police Chief William J. Bratton said the police and fire forces were ill-equipped to respond to a biological, chemical or radioactive terrorist attack.

And Hahn said he was "very frustrated" that the federal government has been slow to provide funding for security in cities.

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