Los Angeles International Airport Police officers, under fire for injuring a pedestrian during a car chase and possibly violating protocol by storming a jet that had transmitted a hijack alert, defended their honor and competence Tuesday.
Three officers made an unannounced visit to the City Council chambers to protest Councilman Jack Weiss' recent allegation that the 309-officer department was "second-rate" and cannot protect LAX from terrorists.
"We feel offended," said Leon Nixon, president of the Airport Police Supervisors Assn. "Who wants to be called second-rate?"
In a letter to police commissioners and City Council members, Nixon and other airport police union officials called Weiss' comments "irresponsible" and said they could "place millions of travelers ... at risk" by encouraging "those that would do harm to the traveling public."
Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick said the department was more than prepared to defend the airport from terrorists, and had received specialized training in keeping runways and terminals safe.
"Councilman Weiss talks about a new terrorist threat," she said.
"But Osama bin Laden has been a household name to airport police since before 9/11."
Other council members agreed, with Tom LaBonge asserting that everyone who works for Los Angeles is "first-rate" and Janice Hahn calling Weiss' remarks "inappropriate."
Nevertheless, led by Weiss, the city is still studying whether the 58-year-old Police Department should be merged with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The LAPD stations at least 52 officers at the airport and is responsible for investigating crimes. The airport police unit, which was established in 1946 and given full authority to patrol the airport in 1968, is charged with preventing crime at the world's fifth-busiest airport.
"They want to defend their honor," Weiss said. "I want to defend the airport ... the No. 1 terrorist target in the state."
Weiss first called for the departments' consolidation in 2002, after a fatal shooting left three dead in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on July 4. But in the last few weeks, Weiss said, other incidents have renewed his concern.
On May 3, airport police sent SWAT officers onto a Singapore Airlines jet after it had accidentally transmitted a hijack alert. Some law enforcement officials questioned whether that was an appropriate response, saying that airport police should have waited for the FBI.
Then, last Friday, airport SWAT officers in an SUV joined a car chase through Inglewood, crashing into a utility pole and flipping. One officer was critically injured, as was a pedestrian.
Airport spokesman Paul Haney said both incidents are under review and declined to comment until those reviews had been completed.
Councilman Greig Smith, who supports merging airport police with the LAPD, said communication would be improved.
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski said she was open to studying the idea, but has not yet made up her mind.
She suggested that the city undertake a similar study of the Los Angeles Port Police, whose 56 officers handle port security.
Nixon said he had no objection to the study.