Airport Police union criticizes LAPD over luggage-theft probe

Airport Police union chief accuses LAPD of sloppy work in raid on baggage thefts

Police touted the raids as breaking up one of the biggest property thefts in Los Angeles International Airport history.

But nearly a year after Airport Police announced that as many as two dozen baggage handlers were involved in a scheme to steal from travelers, no one has been charged with stealing from passengers' luggage, police acknowledged Friday.

At the time, Airport Police reported that a joint task force with the LAPD had detained 14 people for questioning and made six arrests — four on suspicion of receiving stolen property and two on outstanding arrest warrants. Detectives were never able to link those detained during the raids in March to any stolen property from the airport, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Pat Gannon said.

Gannon said he believed the workers could have been tipped off that the task force was investigating thefts from airport travelers.

The raids made national headlines, but their outcome went largely unnoticed until Friday, when the union representing Gannon's rank-and-file officers accused the LAPD of sloppy police work in connection with the law enforcement operation.

Union President Marshall McClain said in a statement that the raids took place despite concerns expressed by Airport Police investigators that the task force lacked police reports identifying stolen property or victims. One airport employee was arrested when officers found several electronic devices at his Wilmington home even though there was no police report identifying the items as stolen, McClain said.

An Airport Police officer who raised concerns about the legality of the arrest has since been the victim of retaliation by his own department and is being reassigned from his position as detective, McClain said.

"Some would consider [it] ... sloppy police work led by officers who were more concerned with making arrests and smiling for the cameras," his statement said.

Despite the union's claim, much of the media publicity surrounding last year's raids credited the Airport Police — often quoting the department's officials, including Gannon — rather than the LAPD.

Gannon strongly disputed the union's claims, saying that prosecutors and a judge vetted the task force's work and signed off on search warrants before the raid. He acknowledged that the task force had been unable to identify specific victims or tie property found during the searches of employees' homes to anything stolen from airline passengers.

But he noted that 23 of 24 airport contract workers who were identified as suspects during the investigation were no longer working at LAX.

"We sent a clear message that thievery wasn't going to be tolerated," he said, adding that search warrants and arrests don't always result in prosecutions.

On Friday, the LAX police union called on the LAPD's inspector general to investigate.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said his department would investigate the union's allegations.

"This particular operation underwent review and was approved by multiple layers of the LAPD and [Airport Police] with input from the office of the district attorney," he said.

Gannon, a former deputy chief in the LAPD, said the accusations marked the latest criticism of the LAPD by the Airport Police officers' union.

Who patrols the airport has long been controversial, with LAX police and the LAPD sharing various responsibilities. March's search warrants were touted by Airport Police in a news release as an example of cooperation and teamwork between the agencies.

McClain said his only motivation was to ensure that officers were not asked to break the law or violate people's civil rights.

Twitter: @lacrimes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times