Police officers across the country can now undergo five weeks of maritime security training at a new operations center that opened Monday at the Port of Los Angeles.
At the same time, federal and city officials asked the public to remain vigilant of any suspicious activity at the nation's busiest seaport.
"Keeping a port secure involves the ability to effectively prevent, or if something were to happen, to effectively respond to something of that sort," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during a news conference Monday at the port.
The five-week program trains law enforcement personnel on various boating laws, maritime intelligence and how to spot terrorist threats or weapons of mass destruction that could pose a danger to cargo and cruise vessels.
Classes will be held at the new $16.1 million Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center in San Pedro, which was funded by federal and state grants. The facility is equipped with classrooms, a helicopter landing pad and floating docks.
The new training facility also is expected to help relieve a backlog in training law enforcement officials on federal security protocols, Napolitano said. The first class at the Port of Los Angeles began two weeks ago with 24 officers.
Napolitano and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also asked dockworkers and cruise ship passengers to keep a sharp lookout for any "suspicious behavior" at the port.
The "iWATCH" community involvement program, launched citywide in October 2009, was brought to the Port of Los Angeles so that workers and tourists can identify and report questionable activity that could lead to a terrorist attack.
The program, also known as the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, is similar to a Neighborhood Watch system, educating the public about the types of behavior to watch for and report. Posters and pamphlets already are available across Los Angeles, encouraging travelers to learn more online at www.iwatchla.org.
"We take the fact that this port, our airport and many of the critical assets that we have here are, unfortunately, high targets of opportunity for those who would do our great nation harm," Villaraigosa said while standing next to Napolitano.
"Even with the best- trained officers and new technology, we know law enforcement can't do it alone," Villaraigosa said. "They can't see everything, so we all need to be vigilant and proactive Angelenos."
Reports are reviewed by Los Angeles Police Department detectives to determine whether the activity is linked to terrorism.
The LAPD has previously reached out to various religious and ethnic organizations while crafting the iWATCH program to ensure that it focuses on a person's activities or behavior, rather than targeting any particular race, ethnicity or religion.
"We're asking you to step it up to a level where you not only provide a great service to the nation, but you're also saying, 'I want my neighborhood to be safe,"' Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said.
A T-shirt vendor was credited with spotting and reporting the suspicious behavior of a man who parked an explosives-
laden Nissan Pathfinder in the heart of New York City's Times Square on May 1, 2010, then quickly walk away.
While the car bomb never went off, authorities said it would have likely killed people walking nearby. Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani national, was arrested days later and eventually sentenced to life in prison.
"We deal with evolving threats all the time," Napolitano said. "The way we can best minimize the opportunity for terrorists to successfully attack ... any place in the United States is by involving the public at large."