Airport Policing: unconventional law enforcement in Los Angeles19 Jun 2012
LAX may be the three-letter code for Los Angeles International Airport, but it certainly is not an appropriate identifier to describe the readiness of the airport’s police to respond to an incident! Whilst many police forces around the globe send officers to airports for a short tour of duty, Los Angeles recognises the fact that airport law enforcement is a speciality and one that requires dedicated personnel, trained in a wide range of aviation security disciplines. Anthony Boisselle outlines the approach to policing at LAX and describes some of the specialised units operating there, some of which serve as a model for law enforcement providers elsewhere.
Airport policing is never conventional. Though the uniforms, equipment, and law enforcement tactics may be the same as their municipal counterparts, there are many differences between general law enforcement and law enforcement in the aviation domain.
In addition to their prioritised counterterrorism responsibilities, the Airport Police must be capable of responding to local incidents, such as theft, crimes against persons, drug trafficking, persons under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, persons suffering from mental illnesses, in-flight incidents, physical illness, and even sudden deaths. These occurrences are common at an airport and the bigger the airport, the greater the frequency. Most large commercial airports, such as LAX, operate 24-hours per day, even if there are restrictions in the hours of actual flight operations; this necessitates a constant state of readiness.
Airports resourced to support their own dedicated police forces are able to address these types of calls in a more effective and efficient manner than those airports whose officers routinely engage in general law enforcement activities. For an Airport Police Officer, the airport is his/her world. For a general law enforcement officer periodically responding to an airport, the environment will be unfamiliar and present a certain level of uncertainty. To understand the airport environment, the officer must ensconce him/herself into the daily airport activities. The officer must have knowledge of the history of aviation security and how their job blends local, state, and federal law to ensure the safety of the travelling public and airport employees. The officer must not only know what they are doing, but why they are doing it and the history of incidents or plots which may have previously occurred, resulting in the development of the particular procedure or law. This knowledge can only be accomplished one way – through training.
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