Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

LAX shooting: What is the Los Angeles Airport Police Division? (FAQ, Photos)

Some of the first photos of the Nov. 1 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport showed police officers outfitted in tactical gear carrying rifles. Many presumed it was the LAPD.

Though LAPD police officers, bomb squads and SWAT units were at LAX, two Los Angeles Airport Police Division officers ultimately confronted the gunman, shot him and took him into custody.

RELATED: KPCC coverage of the shooting at LAX

The LAX police unit is dedicated to patrolling one of the world's busiest airports. The more than 500 sworn police officers also patrol L.A./Ontario International and Van Nuys airports. The unit also includes another 400 unarmed security officers — usually dressed in green and tan — and about 200 more civilians, making it one of the nation's largest.

“My officers are generally the very tip of the spear because they are the ones that are going to be first to be involved,” said Chief of Airport Police Patrick Gannon.

So what is the L.A. Airport Police Division? Here's an FAQ.

Q: Who are they?

A: The L.A. airport police is  an independent agency​ made up of approximately 1,100 law enforcement and civilian personnel. It is part of the City of Los Angeles and falls under the umbrella of the Los Angeles World Airports, a city department.

LAWA operates LAX, L.A./Ontario International and Van Nuys airports. The seven-member Board of Airport Commissioners oversees airport operations, sets policy and are appointed by the mayor of Los Angeles.

The LAWA budget mostly comes from airline landing fees and leases paid by commercial stores and restaurants at the airports. Aircraft landing fees pay the salaries of the L.A. airport police.

Q: How did the L.A. Airport Police Division start?

A: The agency traces its roots to 1946,when the U.S. War Department transferred LAX (then-named Mines Field) to the City of Los Angeles. The airport had been used for military operations during World War II. Afterward, the city hired six armed guards and one supervisor, who were charged with protecting the airfield.

The division grew over the years in response to security threats, such as the spree of plane-hijackings during the 1960s and 1970s. The law enforcement group was officially named the Los Angeles Airport Police Division in 1984, the same year the city hosted the Olympics.

LAXPD expanded again after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when police departments all across the country were given more security responsibilities.

This year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that gave the L.A. airport police full peace officer authority and policing powers under California law. Beginning in January 2014, for example, LAXPD officers will be able to remove illegally parked vehicles, seize weapons and confiscate drugs.

Q: What are the responsibilities of the L.A. Airport Police?

A: Officers are responsible for security and policing the airport grounds. They are federally mandated to respond to incidents at Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints.

Airport police also do background checks on airport employees seeking security access badges. Personnel also monitor the security cameras and are responsible for protecting the perimeter.

LAXPD has one of the largest bomb detection K-9 units in the nation, plus an emergency tactical team that responds to major crimes. The airport police also have a dignitary services unit that works closely with the Secret Service when VIPs – such as the president or ambassadors – arrive at LAX.

In addition, L.A. airport officers also handle more routine matters: lost or stolen items, assaults and traffic problems. They work with the LAPD, which maintains a pool of officers at LAX to help investigate serious crimes.

Q: It is unique for an airport to have an independent police department?

A: It depends. Many major airports across the country have autonomous police departments. For example, New York's Port Authority Police Department – which is separate from the NYPD – polices John F. Kennedy International Airport. It is under The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and also patrols the New York and New Jersey seaports, bridges, trains and buses.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is patrolled by the airport’s Department of Public Safety, which includes an independent police department.

In Chicago, a division of the Chicago Police Department protects Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The same is true at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where the Atlanta Police Department Airport Section patrols.

An airport’s history and surrounding municipalities usually determine whether the airfield will have an independent police department or have contracted security services.

Q: Have there been other shootings at LAX?

A: The Nov. 1 shooting wasn’t the first mass shooting at LAX, but it was the first the L.A. Airport Police Division was involved with.

The last mass shooting inside the airport was in 2002. A man walked up to the ticket counter of Israel's El Al airline and opened fire. An airline worker and a visitor were killed. An El Al security guard shot the gunman dead. It is the only airline at LAX with its own armed security guards.