L.A., the next Mumbai?

Are there lessons for Los Angeles in Mumbai's tragedy? Times editorial writer Marjorie Miller asked Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and his counter-terrorism commander, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, to discuss the potential for terrorism in Los Angeles and what law enforcement is doing to prepare for it. Here is an edited transcript of their discussion.

What is the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Los Angeles?

Bratton: First off, we're all surprised something has not happened since 9/11. The phrase you hear all the time is: It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when. The way to be most successful in combating terrorism is before something actually happens, to prevent it. Can we prevent all terrorism? No. Can we target-harden the city so terrorists might go elsewhere? That's what we're trying to do. It's all about developing the capabilities to gather and analyze information.

Could what happened in Mumbai happen here?

Downing: In Mumbai, 10 or 11 people were able to hold one of the largest cities in the world at bay for over 60 hours. A lot of what was happening was because of the simultaneous nature of the attack. There was a lot of chaos and confusion, which was their goal. It could happen here, but some things would be very different. They didn't have a SWAT team. They had very few helicopters. Their weaponry is very different from ours. We have an immediate-action rapid deployment team. It would spread us out pretty thin, but we have one of the most robust SWAT units in the world. We work well with the Los Angeles sheriffs. We train and work together all the time on these types of scenarios.

What is the role of local agencies like the LAPD in relation to homeland security?

Bratton: There are only about 30,000 to 40,000 federal agents focused on this issue, while in local policing we have 700,000 sets of eyes and ears across the country. There are an additional 2.5 million private security officers in the private sector nationally.

Sheriff Lee Baca and I have created a center where personnel from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, the LAPD, Homeland Security and the FBI all work together to gather information and analyze it. We have created a training academy to educate police officers, managers and supervisors on terrorism. All of our officers will be trained in how to watch for things that might have potential terrorist implications.

We've also advocated that local police have access at the highest levels to intelligence that is being gathered. To that end, I now have a rotating squad of detectives at the Homeland Security headquarters to get intelligence as it is arriving into that center.

Downing: We also really urge the American public to engage and partner with us and report crime and suspicious activity. We're trying to build a culture of first-preventers rather than first-responders. We are leveraging the 45,000 security guards we have in L.A. in the private sector hotels, the financial district, the studios. We train them to recognize and report suspicious behavior.

We're thin. We don't have 1,200 people who work counter-terrorism like New York City; we have about 300 people. What we've really worked on in the last couple of years is raising the attention of the community. As an example, the chief and I met with the Chabad rabbis a few nights ago, about 50 of them. We want them to stay connected. The idea here in Los Angeles is to institutionalize the idea of counter-terrorism to the private sector and community members. We want them to understand the necessity of building hostile environments to terrorists so there's not that kind of opportunity.

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