09/10/2007

LAPD gets new dirty-bomb-detecting devices

By Richard Winton
The Los Angeles Times
 
LOS ANGELES As part of an anti-terrorism effort, the Los Angeles Police Department is now equipping a helicopter and officers on the ground with devices capable of detecting potential radiological weapons or materials used in so-called dirty bombs.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said a new suitcase-size device for one of the LAPD's helicopters can detect "radiation signatures" from up to 800 feet above ground. In addition, the LAPD bought six hand-held units that officers on the ground can use.

"Terrorism is all about getting them before they get us," the chief said.

The devices are among several items the city acquired with $3 million in Homeland Security funds that will enable the LAPD to better respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster, Bratton said.

Deputy Chief Mike Downing, head of the counter-terrorism bureau, said the equipment can read gamma rays given off by radiological weapons. Bratton on Friday said the threat from suicide bombers as demonstrated in Israel is real and that it's only a matter of time before an attempt is made on U.S. soil.

With that in mind, LAPD officials showed off a $900,000 Pierce bomb squad response truck equipped with a robot. The robot has been modified to address the threat of suicide bombers. Bomb squad officers can operate the robot from up to a mile away.

Since Bratton's appointment in 2002, the department has also acquired a firetruck-size vehicle with a computer that will allow SWAT team officers to receive information about a suspect's criminal background within minutes and several armored rescue vehicles known as the Bear and Bearcat.

The latest addition is a response truck for LAPD public information officers, which will serve as a mobile media hub.

"New York and Washington are still the biggest risks in the country," Bratton said. "We come right behind them because of the special assets we have: the port, the airport and just the symbolism of so much of what they hate. In their rush to get back into the 7th century again, 21st century Hollywood is not exactly where they want to be."

Bratton revealed Friday that Los Angeles may be on track to have fewer than 400 homicides this year for the first time since 1970.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 280 killings in the city, 53 fewer than at this time last year, a decrease of more than 15%, Bratton said

"Los Angeles stands a very good chance at the end of the year of having the lowest number of homicides since 1970 that's 37 years. This year we may end up with a total of about 400, down significantly from the over 600 that were occurring when I was appointed five years ago," Bratton said.

Violent crime overall is down 7.8% from last year. "That is 1,580 fewer Angelenos who have been victims of violent crime," the chief said.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa credited the LAPD with that decrease.

"Crime has dramatically dropped throughout the city of Los Angeles because of Chief Bratton and the men and women of LAPD who have dedicated their lives for this to happen," he said.

During the 1990s, homicides in Los Angeles peaked at 1,092 in 1992. But reflecting a national trend, they fell to a decade low of 419 in 1998. The number gradually climbed until 2003, Bratton's first full year as chief.

Bratton made the prediction after August, usually the peak month for homicides in the city. In August, Los Angeles did see the gains reduced somewhat. Killings in July were down 22% from the same month last year, but the August number was down only 15%.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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