For the last three decades, the police force protecting the Los Angeles International Airport has operated out of a squat gray building on 96th Street near the northeast corner of the airport’s campus.

Even at the time, when the newly dubbed Los Angeles Airport Police Division had about 200 officers, the tiny building now sandwiched between a long-term parking lot and a car-rental business never was meant to house all of the staff of the still-growing law enforcement agency.

“We outgrew the place when we moved in,” said Marshall McClain, the current president of the union representing LAAPD’s sworn police officers and fire fighters.

LAAPD now numbers more than 550 officers alone, with about 650 civilian staff. The police department is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County serving one of the busiest airports in the world.

For years the police force has not had the facilities to match, said McClain and other police officials who work out of the 96th Street building, as well as a hodgepodge of other small offices and trailers scattered across the airport.

City officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti and members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety, agreed, finding that the airport police lacked a central location to coordinate its operations. But it took until last week for the seven-member board controlling LAX and Van Nuys Airport to sign off on a contract to design an all-in-one facility that will house LAAPD’s hundreds of officers and employees.

The contract with the design firm will go before the Los Angeles City Council for final approval this month.

The project eventually will involve building the new headquarters on an unoccupied 12-acre parcel on Westchester Parkway, the northern border of the airport. The facility will house the division’s entire administrative staff, its traffic and security units, a canine facility, the airport bomb squad and a shooting range, as well as a community room and space for parking.

The contract was awarded to Hansel Phelps Construction Co., with work on the design expected to begin in a few months. Officials expect construction to start in the middle of the second quarter of 2019, with the grand opening expected in 2021.

The design portion of the project is expected to cost about $29.5 million, according to an airport commission report.

The Board of Airport Commisioners that controls the Los Angeles International Airport released a rendering of the new airport police facility.

The Board of Airport Commissioners that controls the Los Angeles International Airport released a rendering of the planned new airport police facility.

Much like the long-anticipated move into an actual headquarters facility, major changes to the city’s airport police were delayed for years because Los Angeles officials couldn’t make up their minds about what they wanted LAADP to be.

Former Los Angeles Police Department Police Chief William Bratton in the early 2000s argued for merging LAADP with the city’s main law enforcement agency, but the city council refused. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2013 expanding the power of Los Angeles’ airport police.

The origins of the division can be traced back to 1946, when the War Department handed over power of the airport to Los Angeles, according to the LAADP’s official history.

It took the city hosting the 1984 Summer Olympic Games for the city to merge two disparate security agencies into one police force. McClain said the attention from another promised Olympic Games in 2028 refocused the city on updating its facilities — the headquarters project will be a small part of a major, $14.2 billion capital-improvement project building new terminals and transit routes to the airport.

LAADP spokesman Officer Ed Pedregon said incidents like the protests at the airport over President Donald Trump’s restrictions on travel from majority Muslim countries in January 2017 focused some of the airport board members on the issues over coordinating police responses.

Pedregon said organizing the meeting between LAADP’s assistant chiefs alone was a major undertaking.

“The entire campus is five miles around. That’s five miles of space we have to cover to meet,” Pedregon said. “To the south we have our canine facility, and on the north we have we have our detectives, so those units are on the opposite side of the airport from each other.”

McCalin said the new facility would also improve morale for the rank-and-file officers crammed into spaces not meant for police work.

The union president started his career as an officer in the airport police’s canine unit, which handles crowd control and bomb detection. The unit, which 15 years ago when McClain started had 30 officers, not to mention their animals, operated out of a trailer that was supposed to house just five workers.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” McClain said. “There are some officers who have been hired and retired before even seeing the renderings of the new building.”

From: Los Angeles Daily News

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