LAX is cooking its books; the City of Los Angeles is pulling the strings; and the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation are complicit in their incompetence and placid encouragement, ultimately making LAX less safe. 

The City of L.A. is rigging the numbers it submits to the FAA on what LAX pays the City for police, administrative and other expenses to hide the fact that they are illegally diverting airport funds to support City expenses.  On April 8, 2014, the DOT Inspector General released an audit that examined the City’s illegal diversion of federal funds from LAX entitled “FAA Oversight is Inadequate to Ensure Proper Use of Los Angeles International Airport Revenue for Police Services and Maximization of Resources.”  In its findings under the section “LAWA DID NOT REPORT ACCURATE FINANCIAL DATA TO FAA,” the DOT IG exposed the City of L.A. for keeping two sets of financial books—one it submitted to the FAA and one the airport kept internally.  The City attributed discrepancies in the amount of $49 million to “data integrity issues” with no further explanation.  L.A. is playing a shell game of paying LAPD to “supplement” airport police to bankroll former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s pledge of 10,000 LAPD officers. 

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Federal law is definitive that all money derived from airport operations, from airline fees to parking collections, be spent explicitly for the airport.  The purpose is to ensure a strong national airport system whose funds cannot be raided to support non-airport related projects of the sponsoring city.  Ironically, most of the law is as a result of efforts to stop abuses by the City of L.A., which has been cited by the FAA for diversion more than any other locality in our nation’s history. 

The DOT IG audit revealed that LAX contracted LAPD officers to “augment” the airport police force while those same LAPD officers work for the City without reimbursement to the airport.  The diversion is so blatant that LAXPD’s daily roll calls actually listed airport-paid LAPD deployments to high profile events such as the NBA Finals and Academy Awards where proof of the diversion was broadcast on national television.  Four years ago, when publically questioned, the Executive Director of the airport admitted the diversion was happening but was dismissive that the amount of money involved was “granular”.  The recent expansion of LAX’s international terminal and general passenger traffic growth, juxtaposed with a City that has weathered an economic downturn and financial mismanagement, has made airport coffers appealing for City raids that have steadily increased over the past few years. Among LAXPD, this practice is the worst kept secret at the airport. It has substantially impacted the morale of airport police who have seen their ranks decrease even though all aspects of LAX are expanding. All of this, while the City rotates more LAPD “ghost” officers into the airport, fragmenting the chain-of-command between two chiefs at America’s third largest airport. 

No other airport in this country has split policing like LAX’s dangerously disjointed model. The real impact of the diversion of policing funds was on full display during the LAX shooting that targeted TSA agents in November of last year.  While the airport police took down the shooter concisely and effectively, as they are trained, there were obstacles.  TSA panic buttons did not work.  Emergency hard line phones at the airport did not have caller identification. Also, post-apprehension of the shooter, three chains of command, including one by the airport police and one by LAPD, were established.  These eventually were merged into one LAXPD command but chaos ensued. There was universal criticism of LAX’s inability to manage the crisis.  The 80 page overview commissioned by LAX’s leadership highlighted the underfunding of policing resources, including LAXPD’s woefully inadequate incident command post vehicle, and questioned the uncoordinated LAPD post-incident response which was cross-purposed with airport police.

The policing and security problems that exist at LAX are clear.  The solutions are not that complicated but it all comes down to money that LAX says it does not have.  They do, it is just being illegally spent at the City. The bottom line is there are too many entrenched foxes guarding this henhouse, all of which are failing our airport and are culpable in making LAX the most vulnerable it has been since 9/11.

McClain is a police officer and president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association (LAAPOA) which represents the rank and file police officers and fire fighters of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department assigned to protect and serve Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY).