Los Angeles and California lawmakers seek review of security at LAX

State and local lawmakers Wednesday called for a review of security at Los Angeles International Airport after claims by a local police organization that the passenger terminals have become more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Los Angeles City Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Dennis Zine requested that representatives of the airport police, the police officers’ union and the city agency that operates LAX participate in an evaluation of public safety at the nation’s third-busiest airport.

“We want to thoroughly analyze this,” said Rosendahl. “This has got people wondering what is going on. I have not taken a position on this, except that I think the public needs to understand the full picture.”

The lawmakers are reacting to assertions by Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., and Julie Butcher, director of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents public service workers in the Los Angeles area.

In a June letter to Airport Police Chief George Centeno, they charged that the department’s force is spread thin in the terminal area and that random checks of vehicles going into LAX have been cut back recently.

Reductions in police, security and traffic personnel “combined with severe cuts in the budgets for training and the replacement of vehicles and equipment are making LAX more vulnerable to a terrorist attack than at any time since 9-11,” McClain wrote.

Lieu, Rosendahl and Zine “are taking a step in the right direction,” McClain said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it has taken state and local officials to bring our concerns to the police chief.” McClain added that the association’s 415 members are considering a vote of no confidence in Centeno.

Airport officials strongly disagree with McClain and Butcher, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to improve security at LAX since 9/11, including a near-three fold increase in the police budget and a near doubling of officers.

“Those were the most outrageous and irresponsible comments he could make,” said Alan Rothenberg, chairman of the Board of Airport Commissioners. “Frankly, they are just lies. Comments like this only encourage terrorists to believe that we are an easy target when, in fact, we are not.”

Lieu, Rosendahl and Zine said the association’s claims should be reviewed because LAX has been identified as one of California’s top potential targets for terrorists. Since 1974, it has had two bombings, two attempted bombings and an attack by a gunman.

“It is cause for alarm when those at the tip of the spear allege that LAX is more vulnerable than it has been or needs to be,” Lieu stated in a July 13 letter to Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports.

Lieu, who chairs the Assembly’s Aerospace committee, requested that the agency provide him a written report regarding whether security at LAX has declined. He also called on LAX officials to meet with airport police.

Rosendahl and Zine introduced City Council motions requesting that the association’s concerns be addressed by the Public Safety and the Trade, Commerce and Tourism committees. They said they wanted to resolve the conflicting information about security as soon as possible.

Airport officials said the number of police officers has grown from 263 n 2002 to 447 today. The current police budget was increased by about $3.4 million, or 3.5%, over last year’s and includes raises for officers.

In addition, LAX officials said there has been no reduction in the number of random vehicle checks, a program that has been praised by security experts, including those from Israel.