Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa named a senior official from the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday to serve as his new deputy mayor in charge of counter-terrorism, emergency preparedness and criminal justice matters.
Arif Alikhan, who currently oversees a national computer hacking program for the Justice Department, will replace Maurice Suh in overseeing homeland security and public safety issues for Los Angeles. Suh, an attorney, will return to private practice after 15 months at City Hall.
"I'm looking forward to making the community safer," said Alikhan, 37.
Alikhan worked for 8 1/2 years as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, where part of the time he served as the first chief of a new cyber and intellectual property crimes section.
He spent the last 18 months at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., serving as an advisor to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzalez on cyber crime and intellectual property issues and overseeing the department's national computer hacking and intellectual property program.
"Arif has been on the forefront of criminal justice issues, and I look forward to him joining our team," Villaraigosa said in a statement.
One of Alikhan's former U.S. attorney colleagues, City Councilman Jack Weiss, said Alikhan's experience and close relationships with the Justice Department would serve him well in his new job, which calls for him to administer criminal justice and homeland security grants.
"He's dealt with criminal justice issues from every angle, and I think he will be effective both at the grass-roots level because of his people skills and in helping L.A. navigate Washington bureaucracy and compete successfully for grants," said Weiss, who successfully prosecuted a human smuggling case with Alikhan.
A Muslim born to Pakistani and Indian parents, Alikhan said his personal background will inform his role as City Hall's leading counter-terrorism official. "I hope my experience as a Muslim will help [me] address one of the most important issues of our" time, he said. "I think the Muslim community is just as concerned about terrorism as any other."
Alikhan will join the mayor's staff in November, shortly after Suh, also a former colleague in the U.S. attorney's office, returns to private practice.
Suh, 41, said he originally told Villaraigosa that he would stay on the job for about a year or until he was able to accomplish several public safety and counter-terrorism objectives.
He said he met his goals, partly by securing funding to create 83 new police and firefighter positions to bolster counter-terrorism and disaster planning. He said his office also pushed reforms of the Los Angeles Police Department by obtaining funding for video cameras in police cars and more money for the department's inspector general.
Suh left a successful law practice to work for Villaraigosa and took a pay cut at City Hall, where he earns $130,000 a year. He said he wanted to get his private practice back on track.
"I enjoy the practice of law," Suh said. "I'm a litigator. I miss it. It's the right time to go back."