Los Angeles Airport Police 'Super Chief' Cleared for Take-Off

Los Angeles World Airports moved closer to hiring what some have called a "super chief" for its airport police on Wednesday when the agency received the last of several approvals needed from the Los Angeles City Council to create the position.

LAWA hopes to interview candidates for the position of Director of Safety Services at the end of the month, said Paul Haney, a LAWA spokesman. Top LAWA police officials from all four of the city's airports - LAX, Ontario, Van Nuys and Palmdale - will report to the new chief.

The City Council approved an annual salary of up to $167,207 for the position, giving LAWA the last of the information it needs to begin interviewing candidates, Haney said. Candidates for the position had until last Friday to apply, and LAWA hopes to hire someone by early summer, he said.

Councilman Jack Weiss said he hopes the position will give the city's airports a renewed focus on security.

"We need someone who will think about airport security instead of just the airport," Weiss said. "Security needs to be a core mission itself."

Creating the position was one of many suggestions in a March 2005 report that also recommended keeping the LAX police separate from the Los Angeles Police Department. At the time, a proposed merger of the two agencies was sparking debate citywide.

The safety director will interact with other executive officers in LAWA - a key aspect of the position, said Bayan Lewis, who has been interim Director of Safety Services since June 2005.

"I think the position has probably turned out better than we expected, because it has allowed a director-level person to be able to reach out to other organizations, with more credibility," Lewis said.

That in turn helped him form an airport security advisory committee, which involves all the federal, state and local agencies who have a stake in airport safety, including the FBI, the Transportation Safety Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the LAPD and the Los Angeles Fire Department. The committee focuses on devising coordinated plans for addressing potential airport emergencies, from natural disasters and plane crashes to terrorist attacks.

The safety director's clout has "given the police organization here a very strong voice in the issues that involve police," Lewis said. "Whoever gets the job will have a very powerful and influential position because of their position in the LAWA hierarchy."

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