City Council, Airport Clash Over Policing

Times Staff Writer

The debate over whether the police force at Los Angeles International Airport should remain independent escalated into an emotional confrontation Tuesday, with Police Chief William J. Bratton and city officials squaring off against representatives from the airport and its police department.

At the City Council’s first hearing on the matter, the city’s legislative analyst and its chief administrative officer repeatedly criticized a report released last month that concluded the LAX police should not be merged with the Los Angeles Police Department, calling the report’s conclusions incomplete and “troublesome.”

In response, airport officials told the council’s Public Safety Committee that they intended to extend the contract for CTI Consulting, the Bethesda, Md., firm that did the report, so it could answer the questions raised by city officials.


“This is absolutely outrageous,” a visibly agitated Bratton told the committee. “I don’t get it. We just spent $900,000 and now they’re going to tell us we’re going to spend more money and the question wasn’t even answered. What’s the best model? Should the airport take over or should the LAPD take over?”

Bratton wants the airport police rolled into his department.

Also on Tuesday, City Controller Laura Chick questioned the $258,000 that CTI has billed the city so far, saying the invoices were inadequate. In a letter to Kim Day, executive director of the city’s airport agency, Chick asked CTI to resubmit the invoices with additional documentation.

The City Council requested a report on what agency, or combination of agencies, could best secure LAX after a series of high-profile incidents last year involving airport police that led some to question the officers’ competence to do the job.

About 342 sworn airport police officers patrol LAX. Fifty-six LAPD officers, who work out of a substation at the airport, respond primarily after a crime occurs.

Mayor James K. Hahn, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilman Jack Weiss and the police commissioners support a merger of the LAX police force and the LAPD, saying that the current arrangement leads to confusion about who is in charge.

Voters will weigh in on the matter on May 17 when a measure appears on the ballot that would transfer control of the LAX police from the Airport Commission to the City Council, which would allow the council to consolidate the departments.


At Tuesday’s meeting, several unions representing the airport police and two powerful airline groups asked the council to remove the measure from the ballot until it received further clarification from CTI and the chief legislative analyst’s office on the most efficient way to police LAX.

But all sides did agree Tuesday that there is confusion over who is in charge at LAX.

“There are two police departments operating at LAX and quite frankly each one thinks it’s in charge,” said Ken Cox, the lead researcher on the CTI study.

LAPD officers told the committee that turf wars could lead to problems if a crisis arises at the world’s fifth-busiest airport.

“This is not a hostile takeover where we as a department want to come in and remove officers that are doing a good job,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who also said that the report contained inaccuracies about the LAPD’s services at LAX. “The best model is one agency providing service, not a hybrid model.”

But several former airport directors disagreed, saying that the City Charter and federal law require that the airport, and thus its police, be in charge of security at LAX.

“I was there on 9/11 and I was in charge of the airport and the airport police,” said Lydia Kennard, the city’s airport director from 1999 to 2003. “As the head of the airport, you’re held accountable for every single thing that happens at an airport.”


The CTI consultants agreed, saying that many airports have a model similar to what’s employed at LAX, where they rely on an independent airport police force for day-to-day security and contract out for specialized services, such as a SWAT team.

Airport and city officials disagreed about what information CTI was supposed to provide in its report, with the chief legislative analyst’s office arguing in a written report to the committee that the firm “does not provide the level of detail requested.”

CTI failed to analyze the efficiencies that could be gained by combining the two departments and didn’t adequately calculate how much it would cost to convert airport police to LAPD officers, city officials charged. The consultants found that policing LAX would cost the city $30 million more a year if the two entities were combined.

The consultant’s cost analysis “requires significant vetting by our staff,” said Gerry Miller, acting chief legislative analyst. “We need to understand why they made the assumptions they did.”

After the meeting, CTI officials said they did consider how to eliminate the duplication of services provided at the airport by the two police departments. CTI recommended the city phase out the LAPD substation at LAX and do away with 22 additional LAPD officers who are stationed there that the airport does not pay for. The consultants also suggested that the LAX police force and the LAPD work more closely together.

CTI also said that it completed the tasks that the Airport Commission requested in its contract with the firm.


“Obviously, people haven’t read the report,” said Rich Roth, CTI’s executive director. “The foundation and the methodology we used for this is based on what they gave us. We were supposed to find the best security model for the airport and that’s what we did.”