Police group warns that LAX remains vulnerable to truck and car bombs

The Los Angeles Peace Officers Assn. tells the airport's police chief that the department's force is spread thin in the central terminal area and that random vehicle checks have been curtailed. The airport's operator denies the allegations.

July 13, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

Almost a decade after 9/11, a local police organization is warning that busy Los Angeles International Airport remains vulnerable to truck and car bombs that could be detonated next to crowded terminals and sidewalks.

In a June letter, the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn. told Airport Police Chief George Centeno that the department's force is spread thin in the central terminal area and that random checks of vehicles going into LAX have been curtailed in recent months.

Reductions in police, security and traffic personnel "combined with severe cuts in the budgets for training and the replacement of vehicles and equipment are making LAX more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than at any time since 9/11," wrote Marshall McClain, president of the peace officers association.

The June 8 correspondence requests a meeting with Centeno to discuss LAX security. McClain said Monday that a meeting has not been scheduled.

The association's letter was co-signed by Julie Butcher, director of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents public service workers in the Los Angeles area.

Officials for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX, disagreed with the unions, saying the number of sworn police officers has grown from 263 in 2002 to 447 today. They said the police budget has gone up annually since 9/11 and was increased by about $3.4 million, or 3.5%, for fiscal year 2010-11.

"There is no evidence to support allegations … of budget reductions or staff cutbacks at LAX airport police," said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. "LAX remains one of the safest airports in the world and one of the safest areas in Southern California due to LAWA's continuing commitment to staff, train and equip airport police."

Airport officials also said there has been no reduction in the number of random vehicle checks — about 22,000 monthly — and that LAX has met or exceeded the police deployment requirements of the federal Transportation Security Administration, which monitors the security program at LAX.

As the third-busiest airport in the nation, LAX has been identified as one of California's top potential targets for terrorists. Since 1974, the airport has had two bombings, two attempted bombings and an attack by a gunman.

The police association letter cites studies of LAX security done in 2004 and 2006 by Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank. Researchers concluded that large truck bombs, car bombs and bombs planted in luggage were the most likely and dangerous types of attack the airport faced.

Rand recommended in 2004 and 2006 that permanent vehicle checkpoints be established at the airport's six entrances to reduce the risk of truck and car bombings. But McClain wrote that the permanent checkpoints have not advanced beyond the design phase and that random vehicle checks have been reduced.

McClain contends that the assignment of the department's non-sworn security officers and traffic officers in the terminal area is "spare and sporadic." Meanwhile, he said sworn police officers have been reassigned to the TSA's security checkpoints in terminals that are no longer staffed by the Los Angeles Police Department because of cutbacks.

LAPD officials declined to comment on the association's letter, except to say that the department has an agreement with Los Angeles World Airports related to yearly staffing, goals and objectives for airport security.

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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