A marked increase in gang graffiti at Los Angeles International Airport is causing concern among officials, who warned Wednesday that organized gang activity could spill into airport facilities if left unchecked.
Airport officials stressed that while hard-core gang members are appearing with greater frequency at the airport, their presence has been sporadic and nonviolent, posing no particular danger to the traveling public.
Nevertheless, the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s airport detail and the chief of the airport’s own police force met on the issue Wednesday, agreeing afterward to deter gang intrusions by vigorously enforcing anti-graffiti ordinances and other laws.
“We are definitely concerned,” said LAX Police Chief Gilbert A. Sandoval. “And we are going to do all we can to make sure the situation doesn’t escalate by being proactive.”
LAX Manager Stephen Yee, meanwhile, said airport officials last week briefed airline representatives and other airport tenants on what is being done to combat graffiti at the huge transportation hub, where gang members have rarely congregated in the past.
Yee said two painters were hired full time to cover the graffiti six months ago “when we began to see this problem surface.”
Much of the graffiti, which gang members scrawl on buildings and signs to mark their “turf,” is appearing in terminal restrooms and parking facilities, but some have been found in security areas that are off limits to the public.
Authorities pointed out that undetermined numbers of known gang members have been hired at the airport over the last several months, primarily as laborers and maintenance workers. Some are working in city-sponsored job programs.
Speculation by Officials
While most would appear earnest in their work, their presence has led some law enforcement officials to speculate that there are gang members who have sought employment at the airport to better aid in the distribution of cocaine.
“We know that there are Los Angeles gang members involved in narcotics trafficking and we know they are showing up in Denver, Seattle and other points,” said Detective Bernard Rogers of the LAPD’s anti-gang unit, Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH). “We think that is one reason they are showing up more at the airport.”
Rogers noted that a known gang member with a history of drug trafficking was arrested a few weeks ago at LAX for possessing a firearm.
“Maybe he went to the airport to meet his aunt’s plane, but I doubt it,” the detective said.
Rogers said there is no indication that members of any one gang are moving to claim the airport as an expansion of their own “turf.” Several neighborhoods adjacent to LAX are claimed by Crips gangs, he said.
Lt. David Kalish, head of the LAPD’s 30-officer airport detail, said Wednesday that the Police Department intends to increase patrols of airport parking lots over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays to discourage car thefts and burglaries.
That action is not specifically related to concerns about street gangs, but may help stifle those gang members bent on stealing cars and committing other crimes, he said.