Los Angeles Airport Police

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For other law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County, see Law enforcement in Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles Airport Police Department
Common name Los Angeles Airport Police
Abbreviation LAXPD
Los Angeles Airport Police Patch.jpg
Patch of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department.
Motto Serving the Aviation Community
Agency overview
Formed 1946
Preceding agencies
  • Los Angeles Airport Security Bureau
  • Los Angeles Airport Security Division
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdiction* City of Los Angeles in the state of California, United States
General nature
Specialist jurisdiction Buildings and lands occupied or explicitly controlled by the institution and the institution's personnel, and public entering the buildings and precincts of the institution.
Operational structure
Police Officers 419
Unsworn members 650
Agency executive Patrick Gannon, Chief of Police
Stations 4
Official Site
* Divisional agency: Division of the country, over which the agency has usual operational jurisdiction.

The Los Angeles Airport Police Division (sometimes referred to as "LAWAPD" or LAXPD") is the largest police agency in the United States dedicated exclusively to 24-hour airport activities. It is the fourth largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County, with more than 1,100 law enforcement, security and staff. It also has the largest civilian Airport security force in the nation. LAX Police is a division of Los Angeles Department of Airports, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). The City department that owns and operates four airports in Southern California: Los Angeles International, LA/Ontario International, LA/Palmdale Regional and Van Nuys (general aviation). Although currently working very closely with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Airport Police Department is a separate entity, primarily due to the Airport Police having specialized training and funding resources.

Early History - 1946-1959[edit]

The Los Angeles Airport Police traces its beginnings to 1946, when the Los Angeles Airport was transferred from the War Department to the City of Los Angeles. (The airport was later known informally as “Los Angeles Jetport,” finally becoming “Los Angeles International Airport,” with the three-letter IATA designator of “LAX.”) Six armed “Airport Guards” and one supervisor were hired to provide physical security over City properties.

The number expanded to nine in 1949, the same year that the officers were re-classified as “Special Officers” of the City of Los Angeles. The Special Officers were armed and worked for the Operations Bureau under the direction of the on-duty Superintendent of Operations.

Airport Security Division - 1959-1981[edit]

In 1959, the number increased to 12, led by the first “Chief of Security,” George Dorian, with the organization being known as the “Security Division” of the “Operations Bureau.” The organization was responsible for general physical security and for patrolling airport areas. In 1961, with the opening of the new “Jet Age” passenger terminal, a detachment of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were permanently assigned to LAX, working closely with the airport Special Officers.

In 1968, Special Officers of the Department of Airports were granted peace officer status by the California legislature. Slow growth occurred over the years, until 1973, when approximately 70 officers and sergeants were assigned. A single lieutenant position was added in the early 1970s.

Approximately 30 unarmed, non-sworn Security Officers were first employed in 1975, staffing airfield access control posts. They remain in service today, numbering approximately 275, with their own supervisory ranks to the second level (Lt.). Their duties have been expanded to include traffic control, parking enforcement, vehicle inspection screening, crowd control and assisting travelers with information.

Boarding Services Bureau (Anti-Hijack Detail) - 1973 - 1981[edit]

In 1973, in response to world-wide aircraft hijacking concerns, a separate organization of peace officers was created, with responsibility to provide armed presence at passenger screening stations. This organization, the “Boarding Services Bureau, had approximately 75 members, including one Director, one lieutenant, five sergeants.

Directors of the Boarding Services Bureau[edit]

Director Joseph Clair, 1973 - unk;
Director Fred Hall, unk - unk;
Director Mario Polselli, unk - 1978;
Director Ken Parsons, 1978–1979;
Director George Howison, 1979–1980;
Director George Simmons, 1980 - 1981.

Airport Security Bureau - 1981 - 1984[edit]

In 1981, the Security Division and the Boarding Services Bureau were merged, becoming the “Airport Security Bureau”.

Los Angeles Airport Police - 1984 - present[edit]

In 1984, the Airport Security Bureau was renamed the "Los Angeles Airport Police." At various times, it has organizationally been a Bureau of LAWA or a Division of LAWA, depending on LAWA organizational structures (the "Bureau" designation is no longer used by LAWA). Other names include LAX Police, LAWA Police, LAX PD, LAXPD, LAWA PD and LAWAPD, in addition to "Los Angeles Airport Police." (Badges do not have "Los Angeles" included as part of the lettering, other than in very small type on the City Seal. It was felt that the inclusion of the LAX "Theme Building" and control tower would be distinctive enough to identify which Airport Police was being represented by the badge). In 2004, the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department changed their job classification from "Special Officer" to "Airport Police Officer" (3225).


The original issued uniform from 1946 to approximately 1966 was slate gray, sometimes referred to by officers as "Confederate Gray." The gray uniforms were sometimes augmented by a blue-gray uniform when gray uniforms were not available. The uniform changed in 1966 to forest green trousers, jacket and caps, with tan shirts. The Boarding Services Bureau uniform (1973–1981) consisted of midnight navy trousers, jacket and cap, white shirts. Supervisors wore gold colored accessories, such as tie bars, nameplates etc. In 1981, along with the merger of the Security Division and the Boarding Services Bureau, the uniform was standardized with dark navy trousers, cap, shirts, and a black jacket. All accessories were made in gold color for all ranks. The unarmed non-sworn Security Officers wore the same uniform as the sworn officers until 1999, when they reverted to the Sheriff style green/tan combination, partly as an identification measure during emergency situations. Black NOMEX uniforms are worn by officers assigned to K-9 duties. Additionally, blue BDU's are issued to all sworn officers and are worn as a work/utility uniform as well as an Emergency Services uniform.

Rank structure[edit]

As is the case with most uniformed law enforcement agencies, the Los Angeles Airport Police has a paramilitary organizational structure. The rank structure has changed over the years. For example, Assistant Chief and Deputy Chief ranks were used from 1980 to 1986, but were dormant from 1986 to 2007. The rank of Commander (one star) is not currently(2011)in use. A four-stripe rank Sergeant, (with an added bottom rocker, similar to U.S. Army Staff Sergeant) was used from 1980 until 1986 to differentiate active sergeants from other sergeants who had previously served in Boarding Service Bureau at a lower paygrade. Field Training Officers, Detectives and K9 officers receive a 5.5% bonus for those duties.

Title Insignia
Chief of Police
4 Gold Stars.svg
Assistant Chief of Police
3 Gold Stars.svg
Deputy Chief
2 Gold Stars.svg
Captain insignia gold.svg
US-O1 insignia.svg
Detective - Not a permanent rank
Field Training Officer
Police Officer

Security Officers have their own rank structure for first and second level supervisors - Senior Security Officer is considered to be the functional equivalent of a sergeant; Principal Security Officer is considered to be the functional equivalent of a lieutenant; neither has any operational authority over sworn officers.

Other civilian (non-sworn) employees have their own supervisory ranks, depending on position and job classifications. Senior Communications Operators supervise Communications Operators.

Sworn supervisors may supervise both sworn and (non-sworn) employees, however, civilian (non-sworn) supervisors do not supervise sworn employees.

Civilian Oversight[edit]

As an autonomous organization subordinate to Los Angeles World Airports, civilian oversight is through the Los Angeles World Airports chain of command. Prior to 1999, the Chief of Police at LAX reported to the LAX Airport Manager. That relationship changed when the Chief of Police was placed on par with the Airport Manager in the LAWA structure. Starting in 1999, the Chief of Police reported to one of the Deputy Executive Directors for LAWA. From that level, the chain of command went up to the Executive Director, then to the Los Angeles Airport Commission, finally to the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles. In 2010, the Deputy Executive Director reporting relationship was eliminated, with the Chief of Police now reporting directly to the Executive Director, Los Angeles World Airports.

LAPD Merger attempts[edit]

At least six attempts have been made to merge the Los Angeles Airport Police into the Los Angeles Police Department since the early 1970s. A number of outside studies have been commissioned resulting in recommendations that the forces not be merged. The latest study was in 2004 - 2005 and contained almost identical recommendations as put forth in a 1984 study. In 1999, a new City Charter clause stipulated that the Airport Police would be under the autonomous control of Los Angeles World Airports. In May 2005, "Proposition A" was placed on the city ballot, calling for an amendment to the City Charter that would allow a merger with LAPD. The measure was soundly defeated at the polls. There has been some discussion of a merger of all law enforcement agencies in the City of Los Angeles with the LAPD. LAWA Police officers are now trained at the Los Angeles Police Academy in Westchester, CA and the agency training now meets the same standards as the LAPD.

Partnership with LAPD[edit]

Approximately 30 LAPD officers were assigned to LAX as a regular assignment from 1961 to the late 1990s. The number has increased since then but is believed to be less than 75. Their original purpose was to handle crime reports and police response. Over time, with increased passenger counts and increases in Airport Police staffing, Airport Police took on more of the police functions.

Although the relationship between both agencies has been stormy (typically in response to merger attempts), individual relations between line officers and up to the local command level have usually been cordial and effective. This has especially been the case during periods of crisis and emergency, with collaborative management, command and control using the Incident Command System.

In 2002, in response to a terrorist shooting incident at LAX, Mayor James Hahn directed that additional LAPD officers be assigned to the airport. These officers are assigned to passenger screening stations so as to free up Airport Police officers for other duties. The LAPD officers are trained by Airport Police for these duties and are expected to call Airport Police to resolve matters as they arise. LAPD officers assigned to this function are on overtime, with Los Angeles World Airports reimbursing LAPD and the Transportation Security Administration providing significant reimbursement in turn to the airport.

A number of LAPD officers are assigned to explosive detection duties in partnership with Airport Police officers in a joint unit. LAPD also provides additional specialized assistance on request.

Several Airport Police officers are assigned as Detectives, working out of LAPD detective units on airport related crimes.

Selection and training standards[edit]

The Los Angeles Airport Police is a member agency of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. All officers meet or exceed POST selection standards. All officers hired after 1986 meet full POST training standards. (Prior to 1986, training was accomplished local and federal standards). The majority of officers hired prior to 1986 were sent to an in-service training academy in order to meet the additional POST standards. The last of those officers completed training in 1996. The Los Angeles Airport Police will be designated as a State of California Penal Code Section 830.1 agency on January 1, 2014.

Selection and training standards for Los Angeles Airport Police officers are virtually identical to those of LAPD. In 2004, the written tests were merged and the application process streamlined. It is now possible to apply for LAPD, Los Angeles Airport Police, Los Angeles Port Police and Los Angeles General Services Police on one application, taking one written exam.

Airport Police officer candidates are sent to the LAPD Academy, Los Angeles Sheriff Academy or the Rio Hondo Regional Police Academy. Training site selection has been largely based on course availability. In 2006, a decision was made to send as many candidates as possible to the Los Angeles Police Academy.

All Airport Police Officers must complete additional aviation security specific training as required by the State of California, Penal Code Section 830.1 within 90-days of being assigned. Supervisory training for sergeants has been held at the Los Angeles Police Academy since the late 1980s. Training for Airport Police detectives takes place at the LAPD academy. Training for lieutenants, captains and higher takes place at various locations in partnership with other California law enforcement agencies and the POST.

Current status[edit]

The Los Angeles Airport Police was dramatically affected by several events, each resulting in organizational changes, increased responsibilities, increased training and personnel increases. These events included “Proposition 13,” a 1978 tax reduction measure that severely limited the ability of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to increase staffing levels at LAX; the 1981-1983 double deck road construction and terminal addition projects; the 1984 Olympics; the 1991 Gulf War; the 1992 Los Angeles Riots; and, most notably, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A substantial increases in authorized strength was connected to the 1984 Olympics. The organization more than doubled in size between 1999 and 2005, from slightly over 400 personnel to over 900.

The Los Angeles Airport Police, as of May 2007, is the largest airport police agency in the United States and the fourth largest law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County, with over 1100 personnel, including over 450 sworn officers. In addition to LAX, Airport Police members are assigned to the other airports in the Los Angeles World Airports system – Los Angeles/Ontario, Van Nuys and Los Angeles/Palmdale. Some of the officers at Los Angeles/Ontario are "Airport Safety Officers," cross-trained in Fire, Emergency Medical Services and law enforcement.

The Airport Police is a course presenter for law enforcement training under the auspices of the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). The Airport Police fields over 20 explosive detection (EDK9) and patrol (K9) dogs LAXPD K-9 Unit Website; Los Angeles Airport Police, combined with the Los Angeles Police Department, maintains the largest TSA canine explosive detection program in the country in an aviation environment. In 1986, the Airport Police started the Dignitary Protection Unit, which works closely with the United States Secret Service and U.S. State Department to protect high security risk government protectees. It participates as a key member of the LAX Airport Security Advisory Committee (ASAC). It has representatives assigned to the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and Los Angeles County Terrorism Early Warning Group (TEW). The Los Angeles Airport Police is a founding member of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police (IAASP) and the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network (ALEAN).

Fallen officers[edit]

The Los Angeles Airport Police was fortunate enough to have not encountered a line of duty death for most of its history (59 years). However, on April 29, 2005, Airport Police Officer Tommy Edward Scott [1] was killed while investigating a suspicious person near an airport perimeter fence. His killer, William Sadowski, was apprehended by responding police officers after crashing a car he hijacked from a citizen who stopped to assist Officer Scott. Sadowski was convicted of first-degree murder and carjacking on November 16, 2009. On January 15, 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Officer Date of Death Details
Police Officer Tommy Edward Scott
Friday, April 29, 2005
Vehicular assault


It is interesting to note that the Airport Police has a history of long periods where an acting chief has been in place. This is partially due to lengthy examination and selection processes, but also due to various re-structuring efforts that have taken place over the years in response to airport development, world events and political changes. Between January, 1983 and November, 2007, an elapsed time of over 23 years (287 months), acting chiefs have been in place for 85 months, nearly 1/3 of the total time. In the longest interim period a total of 27 months elapsed between the retirement of Chief Bernard J. Wilson (August, 2005) and the appointment of Chief George R. Centeno (November, 2007), with two acting chiefs serving in the interim.

Chiefs of the Los Angeles Airport Security Division[edit]

  • George Dorian, Chief Security Officer, 1959–1979
  • Albert Reed, Jr., Chief Security Officer, 1979–1981

Chiefs of the Los Angeles Airport Security Bureau (after merger with Boarding Services Bureau)[edit]

  • Albert Reed, Jr., Chief of Security, 1981–1983
  • George C. Howison, Assistant Chief of Security, (Acting Chief of Security), 1983–1983
  • Frank C. Costigan, Chief of Security, 1983–1984

Chiefs of the Los Angeles Airport Police (after the 1984 name change)[edit]

  • Frank C. Costigan, Chief of Police, 1984 - 1984
  • George C. Howison, Assistant Chief of Police, (Acting Chief of Police), 1984–1986
  • Bernard J. Wilson, Captain, (Acting Chief of Police), 1986–1987
  • Gilbert A. Sandoval, Chief of Police, 1987–1997
  • John W. Bangs III, Captain, (Acting Chief of Police), November, 1997 - April, 1999
  • Bernard J. Wilson, Chief of Police, April, 1999 - August, 2005
  • Gary T. Green, Captain, (Acting Chief of Police), August, 2005 - September, 2005
  • Brian A. Walker, Captain, (Acting Chief of Police), September, 2005 - November, 2007
  • George R. Centeno, Chief of Police, November, 2007–January 15, 2012
  • Michael T. Hyams, Assistant Chief, (Interim Chief of Police), January 15, 2012 – November 26, 2012
  • Patrick M. Gannon, Chief of Police, November 26, 2012 - Present


  1. ^ ODMP

See also[edit]

External links[edit]