Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Stepping up a turf battle over policing at Los Angeles International Airport, Police Chief William J. Bratton on Thursday criticized proposed state legislation to give the separate airport police more powers.
The same day, a police union withdrew its endorsement of an assemblyman who backed the measure, and its leader criticized a caustic memo by an airport police officer about LAPD overtime at LAX.
Bratton met Thursday with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others to try to rally opposition to the bill, by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale), that would give the airport police officers the same level of authority at LAX as the Los Angeles Police Department.
The change would expand their authority to handle jobs currently done by LAPD officers, including responding to bomb threats, running criminal background checks and managing crowds.
Currently, the city airports department, Los Angeles World Airports, employs a police force of 400 officers who are separate from the LAPD. Additionally, on any given day, about 50 LAPD officers are also working details at the airport.
The legislation would cause confusion over who has primary responsibility to respond to major incidents, such as terrorism, Bratton said Thursday at his monthly media availability session and in an appearance on KTLA-TV Channel 5.
"The LAPD is the best-trained police department in America on this issue," Bratton said in the television appearance. "So, why the hell, in the most significant terrorist target in this area, do you not want to trust security to the best-trained entity in this area? It's mind-boggling."
A spokesman for Villaraigosa said the mayor is trying to work out an agreement between the airport police and the LAPD to resolve their differences.
Bratton contends that the airport police officers get less training than their LAPD counterparts, are not as well screened because they do not have to take a polygraph test and that their "capabilities are dramatically less."
"The last thing you want to do during an emergency is to try and determine who's in charge," he said.
In a state report on the measure, AB 1882, Frommer called the change to include airport police as peace officers "essential" because it would give them "the ability to provide the services necessary for the protection of the air travelers and the safe function of the airports."
Fred Lowe, business manager for the union representing airport police officers, said Bratton's concerns are "bogus" and that the LAPD already has to coordinate responses with other agencies, including the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration.
"After 9/11, the duties and responsibilities of police officers at the airport changed tremendously, to the point where to do those responsibilities would be a violation of the current law," Lowe said.
Current law, he said, limits the airport police officers' powers so they cannot seize explosives or access a computer database for criminal history information -- despite the fact that they must undergo special training in airport security issues.
"They are highly specialized to do airport security," Lowe said, noting that the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training supported the change in law before it was passed by the Assembly last week.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, opposes the proposed legislation.
On Thursday, the league took the unusual step of withdrawing its endorsement of Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim), who is running for the state Senate in Orange County.
However, an Umberg spokesman called the league's statement "bizarre," saying the league had not directly endorsed the candidate. The endorsement had been made through a group called the Southern California Alliance of Law Enforcement.
League President Bob Baker said the bill would prevent the LAPD from taking charge in a catastrophe at the airport.
"It is outrageous that state officials, such as Tom Umberg, chose to get involved in what is exclusively a local matter and to make a decision that puts Angelenos at risk," Baker said.
Meanwhile, a biting e-mail memo circulated among airport police officers and addressed to "LAPD personnel who work overtime at LAX" said airport officers would no longer support giving their LAPD colleagues overtime.
"This, of course, means that you folks will have to find some other way to make the payments on those Harleys and Jet Skis and Rolexes that you bought while you were making all that money on OT," said the e-mail by airport Police Sgt. George Holt III.
Holt said the memo was meant as an internal joke among airport police and was not meant to go to LAPD officers.
Baker, who received a copy, was not amused, saying the reason the league is opposing the upgrade of airport police authority is not to avoid the loss of overtime but because of safety concerns.
"It's very immature and inappropriate," Baker said of the Holt memo.
PHOTO: (no caption) PHOTOGRAPHER: Al Seib Los Angeles Times
June 2, 2006
Bratton rips proposal on LAX police