LAX shooting: Authorities defend massive response
by Brian Sumers
As a SWAT team leader for the Los Angeles office of the FBI, Patrick Conley taught law enforcement how to proceed in the hours after a major event, such as the shooting Friday at Los Angeles International Airport.
Now matter how obvious a crime scene seems, Conley said, officers must methodically consider every possibility. Only then, he said, can they clear the area.
“We used to tell them if you are going to hand a scene over, you have to be willing to have your 2-year-son sit on the floor and you have to know he's going to be safe,” said Conley, now a managing director at Risk Control Strategies in Westlake Village. “You absolutely have to be 100 percent certain that it is a secure environment.”
At LAX on Friday, no one was taking any chances.
About half of the airport was essentially shut down for more than six hours, as hundreds of police and fire officials from throughout the city descended the shooting scene at Terminal 3. Almost all arrived after Los Angeles World Airport police shot and severely wounded suspect Paul Anthony Ciancia. They parked police and fire trucks on the airport roadways and shut down several streets around the airport, including a portion of Century Boulevard.
Meanwhile, passengers from Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 were dumped outside, forced to wait for hours to be cleared to return for their flights. Many complained they no one told them what was happening. And because roads were closed, there was no way for them to leave the airport — short of walking.
Law enforcement officials, however, say there was no other way to handle the situation. They say they had to carefully ensure they were no other threats, and could not worry too much about whether travelers were inconvenienced. They also said other parts of the city likely were safe, even as fire and police teams swarmed LAX.
“Whenever we have a report of an active shooter, we don't know how many suspects there are,” said Arif Alikhan, deputy executive director for homeland security for Los Angeles World Airports. “We don't know what the other circumstances are. If you look at past experience and what we have learned from other scenarios, you know there could be other shooters. There could be improvised explosives. We want to make sure we bring in more than enough resources.”
The same theory goes for the massive Los Angeles Fire Department response, Alikhan said. Two hours after the incident, officials said 100 firefighters had descended on the airport. But only four people were hit by gunfire, officials said. Many of the paramedics and firefighters were not needed, though they stayed at LAX for several hours.
“We do it in anticipation of the need,” Alikhan said. “We want to make sure we have sufficient resources as quickly as possible to handle any emergency.”
It seems obvious, now, that Ciancia acted alone and that the threat was extinguished within minutes. He even reportedly told police there was no greater plot to cause harm just after he was shot. But Conley said police needed to react as if there were more danger.
“The guy just went down there and killed an individual,” Conley said. “You certainly can't believe what he is telling you. Fortunately, it was just one terminal affected. But they had to secure the whole airport in case.”
James Dudley, who retired earlier this year as deputy chief of the Special Operations Bureau for the San Francisco Police Department, said in fast-moving situations there is a chance other areas of the city could be temporarily under-patrolled. But he said forces as large as Los Angeles usually try to avoid deploying too many resources in one place, even for a major event.
“Once you start sending a lot of resources to the event, you are going to leave gaps somewhere else,” Dudley said. “Oftentimes you have a critical incident and everyone goes. No one is left to watch the rest of the store.”
Alikhan, who will soon take a job with the LAPD, said plenty of officers were left elsewhere in Los Angeles. “It's not as if all the resources throughout the city are converging into one place,” he said.
The intense police and fire presence was also much of the reason the three terminals on the north side of the airport were closed for much of Friday. (Terminal 3 was closed for the longest period, not fully reopening until Saturday afternoon.) With the terminals not processing passengers, many travelers waited outside, stranded for hours.
Along with the roads around LAX, parking garages were also closed. So if passengers wanted to leave, they had to walk.
Alikhan acknowledged travelers were inconvenienced but said officials could not rush the reopening of the terminals.
“Public safety will always take precedence before reopening an airport,” he said.
No easy answers on whether to revise airport security strategies
by Matthew L. Wald and Jennifer Medina
WASHINGTON » When Stephen L. Holl, the chief of police at the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, gathered his staff for the regular morning meeting on Monday, he opened with a sobering assessment.
"It wasn't our turn this time," said Holl, who oversees security at Reagan National and Dulles International airports. "Our turn could be next or it could be never."
"We believe this could happen any time," he later added.
The shooting last week at a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport that left one Transportation Security Administration official dead and two others wounded has security experts re-examining strategy for making airports safe, but they say there are no obvious solutions and that extending any security perimeter raises other problems.
"Wherever you establish a security perimeter, by definition, there's stuff outside it," said Arnold Barnett, an aviation security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explaining why it was hard to guard the people at the gate. Placing additional police officers outside the security perimeter, like at the ticketing area or at the curb, could simply prompt a gunman to go where the officers are not.
In a July 4, 2002, shooting at the Los Angeles airport, a man with a handgun waited until police officers left the area in front of the El Al Airlines ticket counter before he shot and killed two people and wounded several others. An El Al security guard shot and killed the gunman.
The chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police Department, Patrick Gannon, has defended his recent decision to reassign armed officers from the security screening area, saying it would allow them to patrol the airport more freely and avoid becoming too predictable. He said the biggest threats to terminals are from the curb areas to where passengers are screened and he wanted more officers available for those areas.
"We changed our strategy to a certain degree," Gannon said. "I can't run the same thing every day." He said the redeployment had allowed officers to respond to the shooting within seconds and stop the gunman from harming more people.
While intelligence might stop terrorists, lone gunmen are much tougher to anticipate and stop, especially if they seem intent on suicide, as many believe was the case with the man suspected in the Los Angeles shooting, Paul Ciancia, who wrote a long note indicating he was targeting TSA officers. Gannon said Monday that Ciancia had entered wearing regular clothes and would not have raised suspicion from any officer who saw him.
As at many airports across the country, Los Angeles airport officials place officers at the curb, primarily to prevent car bombs. Setting up checkpoints at the traffic lanes leading to the airports, done in times of heightened tension, would not have helped in this case, experts say.
The police at the TSA checkpoints are there mostly to make sure passengers comply with the screeners and to arrest those found to be carrying guns.
Officials for the union that represents some 45,000 TSA agents have renewed their call to give at least some of its members a law enforcement status and allow them to carry guns.
"We're not talking about arming and deputizing everyone, but we need to have a consistent and effective force to back up our officers," said David Borer, the general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees. "Right now it's left to local law enforcement and it's a real patchwork. It worked this time, but I am not sure if we would have the same response in another airport."
Some safety specialists have long warned that creating crowds of people at the entrances to the airport gate areas merely moves the area of vulnerability from the planes to a more distant place — arguably safer, because gunfire at a security checkpoint would not make a plane crash.
Researchers are trying to create security systems that would avoid crowds at the checkpoints by allowing passengers to stroll through, putting their carry-ons on a fast-moving conveyor belt.
"All kinds of things could be happening — sniffing for explosives, X-rays, body scanners, or all of the above," said Vahid Motevalli, a member of a Transportation Research Board committee called "Checkpoints of the Future."
But that technology is probably quite distant, he said, and if a gunman specifically targeted TSA agents, even that futuristic checkpoint might not help.
Marshall McClain, the president of the airport police union said the number of officers at the airport had been cut for each of the last three years, making it more difficult to patrol the sprawling area.
"Part of our job is to be a deterrent and one way you're a deterrent is by being seen," McClain said. "We need to be out there monitoring traffic and have a steady force at all times."
Motevalli, the associate dean for research and innovation at the Tennessee Tech University College of Engineering, said that the Los Angeles shooting was different from the terrorism that the existing security protocols were established to combat and had more in common with a workplace or school shooting in the way the victims were targeted.
Like others, Motevalli pointed out that such attacks predate the TSA and have continued. "It's not politically or religiously motivated," he said. "It seems to be mental illness of some kind."
Some believe a strong police presence outside the airports' "sterile area" could scare off attackers or at least end an attack more quickly. Paul Hudson, president of the passenger advocacy group FlyersRights.org, said that airport officials should follow the example of Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
"They have uniformed agents there with essentially Uzis, standing around," he said. Hudson said such a show of force at airports was in place after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but was later withdrawn. An official at another airport, who asked not to be named, described such a show-of-force strategy as "scaring the gunman away so he goes to the mall instead."
Brian Michael Jenkins, a former Green Beret captain and a security expert at the RAND Corp., argued that increased security for crowded public places might not be worth the expense and challenge.
"If your only achievement is you've forced your shooter or terrorist bomber to drive three blocks further to another crowded place, that's not really a net security benefit," he said. "If a person is denied access to a crowded airport, he can go to a train station, bus depot, a supermarket, or a theater, as we saw in Aurora, Colo., or a shopping mall, as we saw in Nairobi, or Times Square."
Two juveniles, possibly armed, arrested in Denver school stand-off
(Reuters) - Denver Police early on Tuesday arrested two male juveniles who appeared to be toting rifles inside a middle school that they broke into and refused to leave for several hours.
The two 15-year-old boys, each carrying what appeared to be a long rifle and a school bag, were seen breaking into the Rachel B. Noel Middle School in Colorado's largest city late on Monday, Denver Police Chief Robert White told reporters at a press conference early on Tuesday.
Police units, including a SWAT team and bomb squad, converged on the school and were still sweeping it early on Tuesday, looking for the weapons and bags, said Denver Police spokesman Steve Warneke. At one point, a police helicopter shined a spotlight on the outer building and a bomb robot searched within.
When Police arrested the two boys after several hours of trying to talk them out using the school's public address system, they were unarmed and bagless.
The boys had earlier smashed a window but had not entered another school nearby. It was not immediately known if the schools would be open.
Boston police planning to add to weapons arsenal
More access to powerful rifles
by Maria Cramer
Four years after Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed concerns about arming more Boston police with military-style rifles, the department is quietly preparing to train 99 patrol officers to use such semiautomatic rifles, a dramatic boost in firepower that some officials say is excessive.
Under the plan, 22 uniformed officers on every shift — two for each of the city's 11 districts — would have routine access to the weapons in their cruisers after they are trained. It represents a substantial increase from the current complement of four to eight specialized officers who patrol the city in “gun cars” equipped with an M4 semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun.
It is one of the final policy changes instituted by Commissioner Edward F. Davis, who left the department Friday after nearly seven years at the helm.
“It's standard operating procedure across the nation, and the officers have to be able to protect themselves,” Davis said in an interview last week. “I think it's a practical and appropriate plan.”
Davis said officials had been planning the change months before the April 15 Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, but the tragedy underscored the need for a greater number of more powerful weapons.
“An incident like that reinforces the need for equipment that's necessary to defend the community,” he said.
The new mayor would have to approve a budget request for the new rifles, which could cost about $2,500 each, plus $500 for ammunition.
But some officials within the Police Department said they have serious misgivings about providing so much firepower to dozens of officers and worry how residents in neighborhoods where police are already viewed suspiciously might react.
“It's almost like we're moving away from being community policing officers to being Navy SEALs,” said Jack Kervin, president of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation. “Is this Davis's legacy?”
In 2009, Boston police were slated to receive 200 M-16s from the US military and had planned to train dozens of patrol officers and members of specialized units such as the bomb squad and the harbor patrol to use the weapons. But the department canceled the shipment after the plan fell through.
At the time, police cited the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, when first responders had to wait for specialized teams to arrive as two teenage shooters killed schoolmates inside.
Police also reasoned that semiautomatic rifles allow officers to halt criminals armed with potent firepower from greater distances and more accurately.
But the plan died after Menino said he was uncomfortable with it.
“I would not want them on regular patrols,” he said at the time. “Maybe on specialized units, at special times, yes.”
Menino would not comment directly on the new plan, but his office released a statement saying that he supports the department's strategies.
“The mayor made clear that he doesn't expect these types of weapons to be used regularly, but rather stored securely in police vehicles and used only during necessary emergency situations,” reads the statement issued by a spokeswoman. “He is well aware that they are common in other jurisdictions and will continue to advocate for the limited use of these weapons for routine work.”
Nationwide, more police departments in major cities and small towns have been arming patrol officers with such rifles, arguing that they need the weapons to counter illegal, military-style weapons on the street.
In Massachusetts, 87 police departments have a total of 918 semiautomatic rifles in their arsenal.
In Boston, district officers carry .40-caliber handguns and shotguns that fire bean-bag rounds, which are designed to deliver a blow but not penetrate the body.
In one of his last acts as commissioner, Davis told officers who want semiautomatic rifle training to state their interest to their district commander by Nov. 1.
Superintendent in Chief Daniel Linskey said it was not immediately clear how many officers had applied for the training, but he said there is a lot of interest from patrol officers.
The department still has to negotiate the new policy with the four police unions, but Linskey said officials are close to reaching an agreement with the patrol officers union.
Thomas Nee, president of the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The department wants supervisors to carry the weapons, as well, but it is not clear how many would need to be trained.
Kervin said he is worried about the added burden the additional weapons would place on supervisors.
He said that the department should consider placing more of the specialized gun cars on the street, rather than arming more officers.
In 2009, as word got out about the Police Department's plans, members of the community resisted. “I think people thought we were going to be responding to 911 calls across the city with these,” Linskey said.
This time, officials have briefed religious and community leaders who work in the city's more troubled neighborhoods, Linskey said.
One of those leaders, Jorge Martinez — executive director of Project RIGHT, a nonprofit in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury — was fiercely critical of the idea in 2009, calling it a ridiculous attempt to arm officers with “toys.”
He said he feels differently now.
“Given the complexities of folks who are violent and who have access to assault weapons,” he said, “I think it would be in the police's best interest to have trained officers [with] access to assault weapons.”
Linskey said he understands there is delicate balance between arming officers with heavier firepower and assuring the public that the department is not becoming militarized.
“We have to weigh those two,” Linskey said. “We unfortunately live in a world where this has become a reality.”
Linskey described the department's new weapons, which he called “patrol rifles,'' as “in the style of the AR-15,” which is the most popular type of semiautomatic gun in the United States.
Linksey said SWAT teams need more backup, pointing to the aftermath of the April 15 Marathon bombing, when officers who had tracked down the bombing suspects in Watertown believed they were armed with semiautomatic rifles.
Boston police officers who responded during those first terrifying moments had to remove the bean bags from their shotguns, then wait for shotgun shells to be brought to the scene, Linskey said.
“We had to convert on the fly,” he said. “We didn't have enough” weapons.
The department wants to add 33 semiautomatic rifles to supplement the more than 60 SWAT team officers who use M4 rifles, Linskey said.
The department eventually wants to bring in more shotguns, but the immediate goal is to arm patrol officers with the rifles.
The goal is to train enough officers so that two officers on every shift are armed with the weapons, which would be kept in a locked box in their cruiser. When not being used on the shift, the guns would be stored in a secure district locker.
Under a draft of the new policy obtained by the Globe, a patrol officer would use a shotgun or a semiautomatic rifle for the following reasons:
A suspect is armed with a deadly weapon and poses an immediate lethal threat; the distance between the suspect and the officer is too great for a service pistol to be effective; the suspect is wearing body armor or protected by material that cannot be penetrated with a service pistol; the suspect is heavily armed or is using sophisticated weapons, like long guns or explosives; and the officer is facing a dangerous animal, such as a rabid coyote, that needs to be killed or stopped from a safe distance.
Nancy Robinson — executive director of Citizens for Safety, a nonprofit group that advocates for more gun control — said that “arming police with high-powered weapons is not the only solution” and that Congress should pass federal safeguards to prevent illegal guns from getting to the street in the first place.
“Until we get serious about curbing gun trafficking in this country, we're forcing police departments into an arms race with criminals,” she said.