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High Cost of Airport Contract on Security Embroiled in Dispute

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Times Staff Writer

The independent police force at Los Angeles International Airport had been troubled for a long time, and something had to be done. Almost everyone seemed to agree on that.

But when the Airport Commission announced that it was awarding a three-year, $1.7-million contract to an untested four-member consulting firm to whip the Airport Police Bureau into shape, the disagreements began.

Airline officials, who foot most of the bills at the airport through landing charges, property rentals and other fees, were the first to complain--although most of them demanded anonymity, explaining that “we still have to do business with those people.”

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“The magnitude of the contract is simply beyond belief,” wrote one in a letter that was never mailed but was circulated among airline officials and even found its way to the originally intended recipient, Donald A. Miller, deputy general manager of the airport.

“Paying four people almost $514,000, plus expenses, annually . . . when one experienced police executive could have been hired to do the necessary restoration of professional image is, on the surface, an example of questionable judgment,” the airline official wrote. “A number of carriers feel that the Department of Airports has acted in a wasteful, capricious and totally arbitrary manner.”

Another airline official said privately that he “completely concurred” with the letter.

A third, Steve Gardella, vice president in charge of security for Pacific Southwest Airlines, said publicly that the contract with the fledgling firm created by Joseph T. Rouzan was a “boondoggle”

“What does Rouzan know about airport security?” Gardella asked. “What does he think he’s going to accomplish for that $1.7 million?”

But Rouzan--a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles, Compton and Inglewood police departments--has a legion of defenders, people like Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, City Councilwoman Pat Russell, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and the airport officials who wrote and approved the contract.

They said in interviews that Rouzan knows plenty about airport security, and what he does not know, he’ll learn fast. They say he is the ideal choice to revamp the troubled, 208-officer department--one of the largest police agencies in Southern California.

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“The police department at LAX was plagued with internal conflict and dissension,” said Oris Dunham, the airport official who wrote the contract before taking another airport management job.

“We needed someone to take over who had a good background, a man who could help the department realize its potential as a first-class police unit.”

“The fact that they selected Rouzan delights me,” said Russell, whose councilmanic district includes the airport area. “He has the management skills and police skills they need.”

‘Need Advice Now’

“We need professional advice, and we need it now,” Miller said. “I’m very confident that the product . . . will be well worth the cost. We’ll get what we’re paying for.”

“I am confident that Joe will restore efficiency, effectiveness and pride to the airport police department,” Gates said.

Airport officials say the problems with the airport police force date back at least a decade, to when the department was really two agencies--a security bureau, which handled traffic control, building patrol and parking infractions, and a boarding services bureau, which assisted in passenger security. Despite functioning as armed, uniformed guards, neither group had peace officer status.

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“A lot of them were retired police officers--people who hoped they wouldn’t have to do anything--just sleep in their cars and draw a check,” said Frank Costigan, a former chief of the Police Bureau who resigned during an investigation of the department.

“A lot of the others were people who wanted to be policemen, but couldn’t make it as real police officers,” said Costigan, who had joined the Department of Airports as a safety officer at Ontario International Airport in 1971.

In 1981, the two agencies were combined into the Airport Security Bureau, later the Airport Police Bureau. Despite a lack of certified academy instruction that would afford them full Police Officer Standards of Training (POST) accreditation, the officers were given full police officer status.

Under the airport security system, the airlines have primary responsibility for passenger security--hiring private guards, often at little more than minimum wage, to screen baggage and departing passengers. The Los Angeles Police Department investigates felonies committed at the airport. Federal agencies enforce federal laws.

That leaves the Police Bureau to handle the rest--patrolling the airport grounds, buildings and parking areas, arresting persons detained by airline security personnel, handling cases of suspected misdemeanors and turning felony suspects over to Los Angeles police.

Bureau officers make about $21,000 a year, $7,000 less than Los Angeles police officers.

Costigan--who worked his way up through the bureau, eventually becoming its chief in 1983--said that despite his efforts to upgrade the bureau, there were many problems.

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“There were an average of 10 citizen complaints a day--things like brutality, misuse of authority,” he said.

There also were serious complaints from within--anonymous letters that began arriving on the desks of some of the airport commissioners in the fall of 1984.

Some of the letters charged racial discrimination in the mostly black department, which was largely commanded by white officers.

“The letters said that there was an unequal meting out of discipline; that the opportunities for promotion were not as great for a black officer as for a white officer,” said the president of the Airport Commission, Johnnie Cochran Jr.

Other letters charged Police Bureau officers with criminal misconduct, and the airport’s general manager, Clifton Moore, asked the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate.

Nine months later, investigators announced that they had found evidence of grand theft, embezzlement, extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery, misappropriation of public funds, falsification of public records, unauthorized release of computer information and unauthorized release of police information.

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While investigators never discussed their findings publicly, it was learned that their inquiry centered around allegations of unauthorized payments for overtime, travel and other expenses.

Series of Charges

In the months that followed, one Police Bureau officer was charged with embezzlement, another was jailed for auto theft, several others were fired and Costigan resigned.

Then, in February, 16 months after the investigation began, Costigan himself was arrested, booked on suspicion of embezzlement and released on $1,500 bail. Court proceedings against him are pending.

Los Angeles police spokesmen say the counts against Costigan accuse him of using bureau funds to rent a vehicle for personal use and of submitting falsified travel vouchers. Costigan said the counts are the result of misunderstandings stemming from blank vouchers that he signed that were later filled out by others. He expressed confidence that he will be vindicated.

Costigan’s resignation in November, 1984, left the bureau without a chief. George Howison, a former bureau chief, agreed to fill in, but Howison was in ill health and made it clear that he was not interested in the job on a permanent basis, Cochran said.

In 1985, airport management invited the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police to evaluate the Police Bureau and recommend improvements. Last September, the group issued its 800-page report. Among the findings outlined in a summary prepared for airport management:

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- “Police Bureau personnel do not understand their role and do not meet the minimum requirements for police officers in California, despite the fact that they have been made to appear as a bona fide law enforcement agency.”

- “Presently there are factions within the bureau that effectively undermine each other.”

- “Training for bureau personnel is uncoordinated and not adequately documented.”

- “Records function is dysfunctional.”

- “The process of direction can be substantially improved in the LAX bureau by openly developing and defining organizational goals and objectives.”

- “The LAX Police Bureau should seek certification by the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training.”

Cochran said Mayor Bradley made it clear that he “wanted the situation cleaned up,” and the Airport Commission set about doing it.

“I wanted the best person available,” Cochran said. “I didn’t think we had anybody in the department with the credentials to turn the department around, and we couldn’t bring anyone in from the outside through Civil Service, so we decided to go the consultant route.”

Dunham, the official who drew up the consulting contract before leaving for his present job as executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, said he talked to several candidates--among them high-ranking officers in the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department--before selecting Rouzan.

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As Dunham noted, Rouzan, 54, has impressive credentials.

During his 21 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, he rose from patrolman to captain, at various times commanding the Central Investigative Division, the Police Commission’s investigative division and the department’s recruitment efforts.

Rouzan then moved to the city of Compton, where he served as police chief, public safety director and city manager before accepting the job of police chief and assistant city manager of Inglewood in 1981.

“It took some convincing to get him to leave,” Dunham said. “He was doing well where he was. He’d always been in a Civil Service organization, . . . and to step out from under that nice, comfortable umbrella didn’t look all that great to him.”

Rate of Compensation

The pay offered by the airport works out to about $208,000 a year for Rouzan, if he puts in 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.

But Rouzan noted that he was well paid in Inglewood, too--”My package, with benefits, was more than $133,000 a year.”

“Coming to the airport meant that, down the road, I’ll lose about $15,000 a year in pension benefits,” Rouzan said. “Now, there’s no retirement, no medical benefits, no dental.” On the other hand, he said, “It was a new challenge in a new, exciting environment--a chance to develop a growing department.”

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Under the contract worked out with Dunham, Rouzan’s consulting firm, Joseph Theodore & Associates, created specifically to handle the job and using his first and middle names, was funded for four positions:

- Director. Rouzan himself took the job, which pays $100 an hour.

- Assistant director, the position Rouzan assigned to Gilbert Sandoval, a veteran of more than 30 years with the Los Angeles and Compton police departments. The job pays $60 an hour, which works out to about $125,000 a year.

- Systems development manager. Rouzan hired Robert L. Carter, who served 22 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before a four-year term as vice chairman of the California Parole Board. The job pays $49.50 an hour, or about $100,000 a year.

- Senior administrative analyst, the job Rouzan assigned to Helga Kennedy, his former executive secretary in Inglewood. The job pays $38.50 an hour, or about $80,000 a year.

In addition, the contract adopted by the Airport Commission on Dec. 18 provides for annual “out-of-pocket expenses” of $10,000 a year, $10,000 a year for materials not already supplied by the city, $10,000 annually for travel, plus “office space and facilities, secretarial support . . . business telephone expenses . . . parking spaces and other facilities and equipment that the general manager deems appropriate.”

The contract also offers an annual cost-of-living adjustment of 5% or more “if, in the city’s opinion, such is appropriate.”

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To those who complain that the contract may be overly generous, airport officials respond that it is a fair deal at a fair price.

“The current position of chief pays $40,000 or $43,000,” Miller said. “You can’t attract a person of Rouzan’s qualifications at that salary.”

“Originally, I thought I could hire just one person,” Dunham said. “But when I talked to the people at the LAPD, they said he’d need some support, some right-hand lieutenants.”

No Fringe Benefits

Dunham said the consultants receive no fringe benefits and relatively small allowances for overhead, which in other instances could add “as much as 300% over the hourly schedule.”

“All in all, I think it’s a fantastic deal for the airport,” he said. “It would be a fantastic deal if you paid twice that much.”

Under the contract, Joseph Theodore & Associates has agreed “to provide technical and professional evaluations and recommendations . . . on all phases of the Airport Police Bureau’s law enforcement . . . assisting in the implementation of all policies and procedures selected by the general manager . . . .”

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Rouzan has been busy since moving into office space in Terminal 1 at the airport.

He has worked up agreements to have new bureau officers train at the Los Angeles Police Academy and current bureau officers train at Rio Hondo Community College, with an eye toward having them all qualify them for POST accreditation.

He has sent representatives to San Jose and San Francisco airports to study security operations there.

He has organized a series of weekend workshops for bureau officers and management in an effort to boost morale and acquaint officers with his plans for improving the department.

And he has given Moore a list of 10 specific recommendations on how to reorganize and improve the Police Bureau.

Suggestions included turning over parking enforcement to civilian security personnel to free sworn officers for police work, effecting better coordination with other departments and reorganizing the bureau’s command structure.

Rouzan said he would eventually like to see a new position--one called “director of law enforcement”--that would coordinate the security efforts of all agencies at the airport, carrying with it a salary comparable to the one he is receiving as a consultant.

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Rouzan said he might be interested in having that job some day, and Cochran said that sounds like a pretty good idea.

“I would absolutely consider him for a position like that,” Cochran said. “He’d be a very viable candidate.”

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