LAPD Counter-Terrorism Unit Being Disbanded?

Given the attempted car bombing in New York over the weekend -- with initial implications for the Los Angeles area and its entertainment media -- this would be an ill-timed move: The union representing Los Angeles police and pseudonymous cop writer Jack Dunphy both say that the Los Angeles Police Department has decided to disband its Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League's blog states that the department has made a "decision to disband its anti-terrorism unit - and reassign those officers ..." Dunphy writes that New York's experience means it's a bad decision for the LAPD:

"It is reasonable to assume that some sites in Los Angeles are every bit as tempting to terrorists as Times Square, which would seem to call for added vigilance on the part of the Los Angeles Police Department. Incredibly, the very unit within the LAPD responsible for such vigilance was quietly disbanded not long ago, with its personnel reassigned to more mundane duties."

The department officially denies the claims. After checking in with Media Relations Lt. John Romero, Officer Sarah Faden told LA Weekly, "Without hesitation we can confirm that our Counter-Terrorism bureau is in fact up and running and very active."

The police union has been waging a public campaign to maintain staffing at the department -- and thus save members' jobs -- in the face of the city's historic budget problems, including a $485 million deficit due July 1. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's proposed budget for the next fiscal year preserves the LAPD's badge numbers and few on the City Council, apart from former Chief Bernard Parks, seem to oppose such staffing levels.

A source with knowledge of department moves maintains that Counter-Terrorism, sometimes cited as a national beacon in high-tech terror policing, is now a shell with only Deputy Chief Michael Downing at the top and a few hands left over. The source says it has been quietly disbanded with cops taking other, more quotidian roles in policing L.A.'s neighborhoods.

The bureau has been in the news recently for its work on the case of the mysterious counterfeiter who slipped away from police downtown last month, and for helping to catch a man in April who had allegedly shot two people at a synagogue last October. So it at least appears to be staffed.

When Chief William Bratton arrived to L.A. in 2002 he immediately set about reorganizing and beefing up the bureau in response to the terrorism threat represented by 9/11 and the "millennium bomber" who targeted LAX. He recruited friend, TV journalist and FBI man John Miller to run it.

Chief Charlie Beck, who took over in fall, has been looking for creative ways to keep officers on the streets in the face of a city deficit that has meant cuts in overtime for the department and the elimination of civilian positions. Beck has, in fact, said repeatedly that he would disband specialized units -- and one could argue that Counter-Terrorism is just such a group -- in favor of getting more badges in patrol cars.

"We are robbing Peter to pay Paul," Beck has said of the moves.


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