SACRAMENTO — State police will replace National Guard troops who began patrolling three major California bridges after last fall’s terrorist attacks, Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday.
Uniformed troops armed with automatic weapons will continue their watch over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Davis said, because it is a national treasure. He said that decision was made after talking with the Golden Gate Bridge Authority, but will be reevaluated this summer.
By month’s end, the troops will be gone from San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, the Vincent Thomas Bridge at the Port of Los Angeles and San Diego’s Coronado Bridge.
They will be replaced by increased patrols by California Highway Patrol officers working in coordination with local police, surveillance from boats and aircraft, as well as 24-hour electronic monitoring of key parts of the bridges.
The U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and Federal Aviation Administration, will continue helping, along with local agencies including the San Diego Harbor Police and Los Angeles Terrorist Task Force, he said.
Davis said the decision was made after “dozens” of meetings between state and local law enforcement officials. He described the guard as having played “an important transitional security role” in safeguarding the bridges. Major General Paul D. Monroe, who heads the guard, also praised the troops.
But Davis’ announcement came less than a month after four National Guard troops patrolling San Francisco Bay area bridges complained their equipment was outdated and poorly maintained, they had inadequate security training for dealing with civilians, and that they’d been told they were stationed at the bridges “just for show.”
Monroe immediately gave the troops new Humvee vehicles and weapons-cleaning kits.
At the same time, former U.S. Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey described the Guard as “the wrong organization to address these new security challenges,” during a visit to San Francisco to discuss the war on terrorism. McCaffrey has a daughter who is a major in the Guard. He said military police should be used, but Monroe said those units had all been deployed elsewhere.
Davis’ November decision to post troops at the bridges was sharply criticized from the outset.
He acted after federal agencies warned of a potential terrorist threat to unnamed Western bridges, a warning the FBI had asked not be publicized because of its questionable nature. The FBI later said the threat was made up by a person who walked into an overseas embassy, though Davis said he had no choice but to take it seriously at the time.
The National Guard left most of the state’s major airports Friday after local police took over their jobs there as well.