Budget cuts prompted LAPD to eliminate a counter-terrorism task force


Los Angeles Police Department officials acknowledged Wednesday that they disbanded a counter-terrorism unit earlier this year as part of Chief Charlie Beck’s efforts to put more patrol officers on the streets amid budget cuts.

The Protective Security Task Force team consisted of about two dozen plainclothes cops who were dispatched to provide a “cloak” of high-level security at buildings or events that had been threatened or were otherwise believed to be at risk, said Deputy Chief Michael Downing, head of the LAPD’s Counter Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

Task force officers also tested the vulnerabilities of city skyscrapers, landmark buildings and other possible high-value targets and then worked with the buildings’ private security forces to review ways to tighten their defenses, he said.

Officials said disbanding the unit was a tough decision, but stressed that it made up only a small part of the LAPD’s counter-terrorism efforts and that the bureau’s primary function of gathering intelligence continues. Roughly 270 people are assigned to the bureau, Downing said.

“It was a valued asset and I would have liked to keep it,” he said, “but every part of the department has to make sacrifices right now and this made the most sense.”

Beck said the reduction won’t hinder the department’s counter-terrorism efforts. “Nothing is going undone, it’s just getting done in a different way. It is a very small amount of people who were moved.”

In the wake of New York City’s failed terrorist attack this week, the cut underscores the difficult decisions Beck faces as he struggles to mitigate the impacts of the city’s fiscal crisis.

Since the Times Square bomb was discovered Saturday, city officials in New York have pressed the federal government for more anti-terrorism funding to help the New York Police Department. Some of that money would go for more video surveillance systems for high-value targets. Like L.A., New York City has been tightening its belt.

Since taking over the department late last year, Beck has reassigned about 300 officers, using them to bolster the ranks in the department’s 21 regional police stations.

Coming into the chief’s job, Beck said the LAPD had become too dependent on special crime-fighting units that operated independently from the regional stations and said he planned to give station commanders control over more officers.

That idea took on added urgency as city coffers ran low and the department could no longer afford to pay officers for overtime.

Beck instituted a policy that requires officers to take time off in lieu of cash payments. With hundreds of officers forced to take time off each month, the policy has left station commanders scrambling to adequately patrol the city.

The reassigned officers have provided some relief. Beck, however, has indicated that the fiscal crisis forced him to move more officers than he otherwise would have wanted.

“We’re having to rob Peter to pay Paul,” he has said on several occasions.