With LAPD’s deployment at LAX at its lowest level since 2001, it came as no surprise when airport officials recently reported a 10 percent increase in crime overall, and a nearly 500 percent increase in violent crimes — from only three in 2012 to 14 in 2013. The violent crimes included 10 aggravated assaults, two robberies, a rape and the Nov. 1 killing of a Transportation Security Administration officer, the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty.
As the many agencies involved in securing the world’s sixth busiest airport finish their after-action reports on the Nov. 1 shooting, they would do well to focus their attention on preventing the next criminal act as opposed to just figuring out how to better respond when one occurs.
The airport police union shares our concerns. A recent statement from the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association’s (LAAPOA) newsletter reads: “Increased crime rate figures at LAX released this week underscore what LAAPOA has been pointing out in the media and will be publicly focusing on this year: Airport officials need to look beyond physical airport improvements and focus on investing in airport security, not only by replacing airport officers lost to attrition, but increasing the ranks.”
After the El Al ticket counter shooting in 2002, then-Mayor James Hahn moved quickly to place LAPD officers at each TSA checkpoint inside LAX’s nine passenger terminals. His smart idea was to free LAX airport police to provide high-visibility patrols of the airport from its perimeter to the terminal interiors. With that bold step, Mayor Hahn hardened the target and made LAX a model for airport security nationwide.
Mayor Villaraigosa believed it was essential that an armed police officer stood between the non-sterile airport and the sterile area just beyond each TSA checkpoint. Without that officer in place at the checkpoint on Nov. 1, Paul Anthony Ciancia was able to take control of Terminal 3 until officers on patrol shot him. Airport Police ranks declined from 514 on Jan. 1, 2010, to 495 on Jan. 1, 2014.
This reduction came as LAWA phased out LAPD sworn officers who were protecting the TSA checkpoints. It also ended the high-visibility LAPD motorcycle patrols of the Central Terminal. The net effect is a reduction of approximately 80 to 100 sworn officers (LAPD and LAX airport police) protecting LAX in the last three years.
This led to the noticeable degradation of airport security — creating an environment conducive to a sudden rise in airport crime. Recognizing that the money to pay for public safety comes from taxpayers, our investment needs to be wise, effective and smart. Los Angeles must invest in technology and training — and our department must continue to collaborate and coordinate with surrounding jurisdictions to maximize the effect of public safety expenditures.
At LAX, corrective action must be taken without delay. Mayor Garcetti should direct his airport department to reinstate stationing officers at podiums at TSA checkpoints around the airport as had been the case from 2002 to 2013. These fixed podiums must not be staffed at the expense of high-visibility vehicle checkpoints at the entrance to the airport and uniformed patrols throughout the airport.
They are an important deterrent. The mayor and council should direct the airport department to use off-duty LAPD officers to provide needed staffing at the TSA passenger screening checkpoints until airport police ranks can be expanded to provide the incremental personnel needed to maintain a hardened target.
We realize that augmenting the airport police with off-duty LAPD police costs money; however, the funds will come not from city taxpayer dollars, but rather from the airport’s self-generating budget. With billions of dollars being spent on construction projects at LAX, this is no time to pinch pennies on safety and security. All those construction projects, after all, will be of little value if people don’t feel safe going to the airport to catch a flight.
Tyler Izen is president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing all sworn personnel in the LAPD up through the rank of lieutenant.