The good news is that LAX is thriving. Passenger traffic is up, and the airport is expanding.
We are seeing major investments with LAX’s massive modernization initiative — $2.8 billion was just approved for a multi-year consolidated rental car facility; $209 million for a West Intermodal Transportation Facility; $4.9 billion for an automated people mover; $515.8 million for the Terminal 1 renovation; and $1.6 billion for the North Gates/Midfield Satellite Concourse. The list goes on and on. Times are good for LAX, and there is almost no area of the airport where executives have skimped (including the CEO’s substantial 2018 raise) — except for when it comes to public safety. Notably absent from LAWA’s four-page, multibillion-dollar overview of modernization projects is airport policing; see the LAX Modernization Fact Sheet.
While LAWA touts important accomplishments in its press releases and modernization plan, the lack of focus on LAXPD is in itself glaring. If you are thinking that the alarm bells should be ringing, you are right. But, is LAWA preparing LAXPD to answer them? Has LAWA hired or promoted qualified leaders with the necessary background, depth, experience and airport training to run LAXPD, the fourth-largest police agency in Los Angeles County? Has LAWA allotted the resources to LAXPD to have the manpower, equipment, training and facilities to sustain the current airport environment? Is adequate planning taking place to keep up with LAX’s evolution? The answer to these questions from the LAXPD rank-and-file is a resounding no!
What this means in real examples is that LAXPD has an attrition rate of 155% — for every LAXPD officer who retires or leaves the force, LAWA is not replacing them in a timely manner. The training and hiring effort is so far behind that now when an officer leaves LAXPD, the force is down one and a half officers. And this is during a time of massive growth for the airport. LAWA executives have sent out an edict for all divisions to cut overtime staffing by 20%, slow promotions and replacement of field training officers (FTOs) — the very officers who actually train new recruits — due to “cost constraints”. LAXPD is now in year seven of a three-year vehicle replacement process, and some officers are still driving decade-old vehicles with over 150,000 miles. These vehicles have been due for salvage with parts that are failing and, in some cases, endangering officers. The much-heralded new LAXPD police headquarters facility is woefully behind schedule and changes to the original plans are reportedly underway to cut essential public safety elements under the auspices of saving money.
However, as the LAX Modernization Fact Sheet states, the first phase of a $238 million Terminal 6 renovation, which includes increased lobby space, and the second $70.5 million phase, which covers renovation and expansion of concession space, are fully completed. The $148.5 million Terminal 4 connecter is finished and humming along.
The closest effort to support airport police is the LAX Airport Response Coordination Center (ARCC). This center is supposed to streamline “crisis management capabilities,” and it includes an adjacent room housing the Department Operations Center (DOC), which is “activated in the event of a critical incident or airport emergency” and serves as a “command center and integrates all resources of responding airport divisions and local and federal agencies.” ARCC was completed in 2010. Three years later, LAX experienced a shooting that left one TSA agent dead and several other people injured. A 2014 LAX-commissioned after-action report on the shooting exposed that management overseeing the ARCC and DOC did not have processes in place to fully coordinate functions, even while our officers soundly did their part. Airport executives failed a fundamental streamlining principle that led to the mass chaos of three separate incident command centers being set up after LAXPD officers took down the shooter. This led to crippling confusion until all were rightfully folded into the airport proprietary LAXPD mobile command center.
The 2014 report documented the lack of LAXPD hiring to balance attrition and other management issues that raised serious concerns about crisis response by LAWA executives. The shooting also tragically brought into full public view the vulnerability of TSA employees, revealing where they congregate most, and how airport divisions and local and federal agencies were not integrated, because there was no airport police presence anywhere near TSA passenger security screening.
Such a presence could have altered the events and mitigated the shooter’s impact. Furthermore, airport management did not foresee nor prevent 9-1-1 calls made at the airport from being routed off the airport to non-LAXPD dispatch, another issue that LAAPOA had and has repeatedly brought to their attention. Nor did they prevent TSA panic buttons from failing nor installed caller ID at TSA landline “red phones” that could have immediately identified the location of the shooter.
What LAXPD did get right is that our officers engaged and took down the shooter without the benefit of CCTV cameras or any of the aforementioned tools, and did so at great personal risk. But we will point out that a $12.3 million theme building is finished and up and running and that LAWA’s CEO Deborah Flint got a 9% raise this year. Priorities are apparent here.
“It is time to take a hard look at investment priorities at LAWA,” says LAAPOA President Marshall McClain. “Although all aspects of the airport environment are important, things are clearly out of whack when airport policing is not even mentioned among the 22 titles of projects outlined in the LAWA-produced multibillion-dollar modernization fact sheet. LAAPOA’s officers are weary of not being second class or even third class at LAX. We are not even sure we are in the steerage compartment.
“I implore airport management to allocate the necessary resources to keep pace with officer attrition and to provide LAXPD with the same gold standard that concessioners and theme buildings are afforded,” McClain continues. “Our police officers step up every day, understaffed and under-equipped, yet they keep safe the hundreds of thousands of passengers who pass through LAX and Van Nuys airports daily, and that has been taken for granted for far too long.”