The airport police officers union on Friday accused commanding officers and the Los Angeles Police Department of initiating an improper sting on luggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport, and called on the LAPD’s watchdog to investigate.
Officers from the Airport Police force and the LAPD jointly carried out Operation XXII last March 26, arresting six airline workers on suspicion of stealing items from passengers’ luggage at LAX.
The Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers’ Association alleges LAPD detectives initiated the operation without probable cause, as no police reports were filed indicating actual items were stolen, and accused the Airport Police chief of knowingly allowing his officers to participate in the “unconstitutional” operation.
The association urged Inspector General Alex Bustamante to look into the operation, describing it as “sloppy police work led by officers who were more concerned with making arrests and smiling for the cameras.”
Sgt. Karla Ortiz, an Airport Police spokeswoman, called the union’s accusations “erroneous,” saying that judges would not grant search warrants if not enough probable cause is shown.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the department has started an internal review in response to LAAPOA’s accusations.
“We always welcome any review of our operations to ensure that the standards of the legal system and department policies are met,” Smith said. “This particular operation underwent review and was approved by multiple layers of the LAPD and LAXPD with input from the Office of the District Attorney.”
The LAAPOA maintains airport police were unwilling participants in the sting, and that one officer who objected that there was not enough cause to carry it out was placed on desk duty. Ortiz denied that was the case, saying officers are regularly rotated around the department as part of a policy to give new officers opportunities to gain experience.
Before 22 search warrants were served at the airport and homes of airline workers, “concerns were raised by LAXPD officers who correctly noted that there were no police reports on file identifying any of the alleged stolen property or victims,” according to a union statement.
A deputy district attorney reminded participating officers “that it was important to have police reports,” upon being informed that “only airline pilfering reports existed,” according to the union.
Of the six people arrested, none are being prosecuted for stealing items from luggage, according to airport police union officials.
Three of the baggage handlers were arrested on unrelated charges, cases against two of the workers were rejected by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the case on another was dismissed, according to the LAAPOA.
LAAPOA President Marshall McClain said “the public expects our officers to follow the law, period.” He said LAX command staff and their chief should have known not to “put us in the position of breaking the law and violating the rights of suspects, alleged or otherwise,” adding that the operation “will probably result in more civil lawsuits than arrests made.”