When Rick Massa agreed to join the Bob Hope Airport Police Department, the 60-year-old was obligated to work just two days a week.
But the 35-year LAPD veteran, 25 of them in Special Weapons And Tactics, ended up giving a great deal more.
After joining Chief Ed Skvarna’s department two years ago, it didn’t take long for the recipient of the Los Angeles Police Department Medal of Valor to start in with large-scale improvements to policy and training. He appeared before the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority six months into his tenure with a stern warning: They were ill-equipped and unprepared to handle an active shooter.
Every officer was soon trained on the M-16 rifle, complete with a new policy, earning Massa the department’s Officer of the Year award.
“Now we have a police department here that has the weapons and the training that if something were to happen, we would be able to respond,” Skvarna said.
Massa’s next request for Joint-SWAT Aircraft Training, which the authority also granted, would put Bob Hope Airport and its police department on the map with agencies across the West Coast, he said.
The session last year included about 90 officers from SWAT teams with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, LAPD and FBI training on three aircraft donated by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.
This year, the exercise grew to 300 officers from more agencies.
“Bob Hope Airport has now become a training ground for tactical teams that are able to train on airplanes and get extensive training on airplanes,” Massa said.
For his Officer of the Year award, Massa was flown to the national memorial for peace officers in Washington, D.C.
There, he was able to reconnect with fallen SWAT officers Randy Simmons, Robert J. Cottle, a Marine reserve and the first officer killed in combat in Afghanistan, and longtime LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, for whom he cooked his famous macaroni and cheese.
“With those three officers gone, it was very important that I was able to go back there,” Massa said. “I was able to see Randy’s name on the wall. They had put Gates’ name on the wall. And I was able to go to R.J.'s grave site over at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a family. And it’s because of that family that I got to say goodbye.”
Massa was involved in dozens of high-profile incidents in Los Angeles. In 1997, he was one of the officers who responded to the North Hollywood shootout at Bank of America.
But what went unnoticed was his work as the unit’s expert on high-risk hostage negotiations, said Burbank Police Capt. Mike Albanese, a retired SWAT commander.
“He was a very effective negotiator in hostage-taking incidents and with folks who were on the threshold of killing themselves,” Albanese said.
Massa also got to know Wolfgang Puck’s team of chefs by setting up security of the Governor’s Ball for the Academy Awards.
“They asked me to come by and cook,” Massa said. “And at first I said, ‘No way.’ It’s very intimidating. You’re talking five-star dining, and at that time I was a backyard burger flipper.”
He took classes for a year, and when the chefs extended the next offer he agreed, whipping up 10 gallons of sauces in the back.
The next year, after receiving more formal training, he agreed to cook alongside seven executive chefs on the Oscar hotline, turning out 350 of Puck’s classic baked potatoes in 45 minutes, each topped with crème fraiche and caviar.
He surprised everyone again after winning $25,000 on the Food Network’s “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” with his gourmet macaroni and cheese.
“People often say, ‘How do you do it,’” Massa said. “I say, from cop to cook, it’s really no big deal.”