News Column

LAPD Mounts Counterterrorism Drill

June 7, 2013

Christina Villacorte

Fake explosions and gunfire rocked downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, as police mounted an impressive counterterrorism drill that featured helicopters swooping between buildings and a remote-controlled forklift that carried away a pickup truck loaded with bombs.

"We want the people of Los Angeles to know that we are as ready as we can humanly be," Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said.

"Does this eliminate all threat? No, but it does get us a long way towards dealing with one if it comes through," he added.

"It was well-planned, and the coordination was absolutely flawless," added Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. "That's what we needed to show the public in Los Angeles: that we're prepared."

The demonstration of LAPD's Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) was the culmination of a counterterrorism conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.

At exactly 11:15 a.m., police officers engaged a pair of armed terrorists in a firefight on Figueroa Street in front of the hotel, killing them. Reinforcements then arrived in squad cars.

When a second pair of fake terrorists popped up on the Fifth Street bridge next to the hotel, LAPD deployed an AirStar helicopter with a sniper platform.

The chopper glided between buildings, and sharpshooters took out the suspects who had been aiming at the officers in the squad cars below.

A Sheriff's Department Puma helicopter then arrived, carrying SWAT officers who rappeled onto the bridge in search of

additional threats.

A third pair of terrorists drove onto Figueroa Street in a red pickup truck, opened fire with assault weapons, and started detonating explosives.

SWAT officers took both of them out, then had the bomb squad defuse their weapons.

A robot approached a fallen suspect to make sure he was no longer a threat, while a remote-controlled BADCAT forklift raised the pickup truck so bomb technicians could check for explosives underneath it.

The 23-minute drill was punctuated by very loud bangs that triggered car alarms in the parking structures nearby. The hovering helicopters caused a downdraft that sent leaves and other debris flying onto streets.

Hundreds of onlookers watched from sidewalks and surrounding buildings, and cheered for the officers once it was over.

"I thought it was an incredibly impressive demonstration of LA's finest," said Allison Windsor, who works for a defense supplier and was a participant at the conference.

"It made me feel safe and think that our city's got it handled if we have something really scary that's going to happen," she said.

Srujana Bairi, a local resident, watched the drill with her 4-year-old son, Tejas, who felt scared by the helicopters.

"It was very near," she said.

LAPD spokesman Commander Andrew Smith said the aim of the drill was to enhance training, and remind the public to be engaged in the fight against terrorism.

"We know that terrorists -- as we saw in Boston -- are capable of acting anywhere so we need to maintain our vigilance," he said. "We need to maintain our edge."

"If the public is not engaged in the fight against terrorism, then we lose a big ally," he added. "If they see something, (they should) say something."

Sheriff Lee Baca said he hopes this display of Los Angeles' counterterrorism capability serves as a deterrent to would-be attackers.

"Part of preventing terrorism to let terrorists know that we're prepared, that we're not just going to let them come in without putting up a good, strong fight that, in the end, they'll lose."

christina.villacorte@dailynews.com

@LADNvillacorte on Twitter

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