Street Stories When Pigs Fly

When Pigs Fly: LAX Security, or “Lax” Security?

By Ron Corbin, retired LAPD and LVMPD

When flying for Air Support Div, the choices for taking CODE-7 (meal break) are minimal compared to those for patrol officers. If you don’t bring your paper bag lunch, but choose to eat at a restaurant, the accommodations are basically relegated to those at airport cafes. The positive side of this is that air crews rotated every two hours, so we had a longer time to eat and relax between flights that ground officers weren’t afforded.

One day my observer and I decided to land at LAX and find a restaurant inside one of the major terminals. Landing and parking on the ramp, we walked up one of the empty jet-way stairs for Terminal 5, and entered the passenger gate area. We continued walking toward the front of the building, exited onto the sidewalk, and went to one restaurant located in adjacent Terminal 6.

After finishing our meal, we reversed our route to return to our parked helicopter outside of Terminal 5. As we approached the passenger security screening area, there were a couple hundred passengers in line to be screened and have their carry-on baggage X-ray checked.

This was a time when hijackings were prevalent around the world and, compared to current practices and procedures, airport security was in its “infancy.” There was no TSA as we know it today. Security personnel were contracted companies and standards in personnel selection varied from airport-to-airport. LAPD provided LAX with an on-site sub-station and division of uniformed officers assigned as a regular 24/7 element for protection.

Being “uniformed” officers, we started to go through the passenger “exit corridor” in order to get to our gate’s appropriate jet-way where we left our helicopter. A female security agent stepped in front of us, held up her hand like a school crossing guard, and said, “STOP! You can’t go this way,” and pointed to a sign saying basically the same thing.

At first I thought she was joking and with a big smile, started to step around her. She moved her body in our path and said that we had to go through the body scanner that all passengers were required. Even after announcing that we were LAPD and pilots for our aircraft outside, she seemed oblivious to the guns on our hips, remaining steadfast in her demeanor.

Agreed, we weren’t in the typical LAPD blue uniform, but my partner and I had the standard uniform in those days for ASD aircrews: khaki pants and shirt with holstered gun and ammo pouches. Our shirt had ASD shoulder patches, our name tag, and of course due to “Dragnet,” probably the most famous and identifiable badge in the world was pinned to our chest.

Not having time to waste and needing to get back in the air to relieve our other airborne crew, we figured it wasn’t worth the effort to debate this issue with her. So, we went directly to the head of the passenger line and were motioned through the scanner without question or delay. Of course, the security person at this point apparently recognized we were legit and never flinched to allow us passage as the “lights, bells and whistles” of the scanner alerted to the revolvers on our hips.

“I think she must have worked security at Wally World when it was closed for repairs.”

The Call Box

The Call Box: The King and I

By Ed Meckle, retired LAPD


…….Or how I met the king of Cambodia, almost

It is about 1960 and I am a policeman working Metro, the division that seems to do a little of everything (stakeouts / plain clothes patrol / crowd control, etc.). This day with 6-7 others, I have been assigned uniformed security for the King of Cambodia.

He is in L.A. for 3-4 days for “trade meetings.” He and his entourage have taken over the top two floors of a hotel near the airport (LAX).

Now this is my first experience with royalty and I am discovering they are much like rock stars of a later era. When I say entourage, I mean entourage. There are chancellors and councilors and ministers, all of whom require an assistant. Each assistant is required to have at least two or more assistants. And everyone is important.

There are also ten or twelve very hot-looking ladies who seem to move as a herd or flock. I can only assume they are secretaries or researchers or whatever.

Last, is their own security detail, who seem equally divided between very short muscle-bound natives in ill-fitting suits who scowl a lot and some truly tough looking European types who I am guessing are mercenaries.

They also have what I can assume is State Department security when they leave the hotel. When they move, we stay put. Fine with me. We are “in house” only.

We have been briefed by our own supervisor and a government functionary. We have a suite to ourselves, and are told we can order our meals from room service (be still my heart). But, don’t get greedy and no booze.

Norodom_Sihanouk_official_1955_portraitOne of the guys on the detail is a friend and former Marine Bob Steele. He had served at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, many years prior and had actually met the king on several occasions. The king is Norodom Sihanouk, or as Bob referred to him, “Snookie,” a beloved and revered figure in his country.

It was what would be called a “cushy” detail: boring but good chow. We did two, 2 hour shifts at a desk outside his suite with absolutely nothing to do. The balance of off time, we watched TV, ate, or napped.

One interesting side note: a passing patrol sergeant saw our black and white in the parking lot and assumed one of his units was up to some hanky-panky. He obtained the key from the desk and since the group was out, there was no one at our desk to stop him. He made a grand entrance and demanded, “Who are you?”

I was seated on the couch in my underwear, (naturally, eating) and watching TV. I replied “Metro special detail. Who are you?”

LAPD_Classic_Cruiser_1958_Chevrolet_West_Valley_StationNow, I am sure he was mentally picturing my trial board and sentence to a Turkish prison as a result of his great work. “Uh, I was just driving by and thought I’d check to see if you needed anything.”

“Thanks, Sarge. We’re good.”

Despite the lack of English speakers when they left, there was a lot of bowing and smiling and each of us was presented with a gift: A fancy comb and equally fancy letter opener made of ivory inlaid with filigreed silver. I still have both.

I later found out “Snookie” had been deposed in 1955.

Oh, by the way. I never did see the king.


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