Cargoland: Meet the port police

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A Los Angeles Port Police Boat / Courtesy of Port of Los Angeles (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Los Angeles Port Police isn’t your average law enforcement agency. It has to be one of the most versatile police departments in the nation.

“We’re homeland security, community relations, dive team, motors, K9, a lot of different things,” said Sergeant Ryan Howley. “It’s actually kinda hard to define.”

A K9 unit checks for explosives / Courtesy The Port of Los Angeles

This port sees a lot of traffic, from recreational boaters and cruise ships, to commercial fishermen and massive shipping vessels. So they have eyes in a lot of different places. Beyond basic safety, the police worry about drugs, explosives, homeland security and post-9/11 explosive threats. They have a K9 unit, and motorcycle officers who patrol the ports themselves.

“Every day is different,” says officer Daniel Meadows, “very unpredictable.” And everything’s on water: Crashes, speeding, “boating under the influence,” all of it is in an environment that changes every minute.

Like almost anything, much of the work at the ports has been computerized for efficiency. That opens the doors to cyber terror threats. In recent years, drug cartels have tried hacking into shipping companies’ computers to track and intercept drug shipments. The ports have been repeatedly hit by password cracking software. And a disgruntled employee planted malware that took down a refinery’s system for almost a week.

But arguably the most important thing that the Port Police does is protect the shipping and passenger vessels that come and go. Forty percent of the nation’s cargo comes through the Ports of L.A. and Long Beach. This year alone, more than 7 million of those huge shipping containers have entered through the ports.