The Chief Airport Police at Los Angeles World Airports
He man was in a panic as he held his choking baby under his arm, trying to find help. He had no idea where the hospital was and could do nothing but wander. suddenly he noticed a police car. It was George Centeno, a new policeman who was out late that evening patrolling the streets.
As soon as Centeno saw the baby turning blue, he applied the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged a penny from the choking baby’s throat. The color returned to the baby’s face and Centeno directed the man towards the hospital. Had it not been for Centeno, the baby would have died.
“When you get to look into somebody’s eyes and see the gratification, that’s when you feel like, ‘Wow, I did make a difference,’” said Centeno.
This act of service earned Centeno his first medal at the Santa Monica Police Department and was only part of his nearly thirty years of service at that agency.
Now as the fourth executive to serve as Chief of Airport Police at Los Angeles World Airports; since 2007, Centeno leads approximately 1,200 sworn and civilians personnel in efforts to ensure airport safety. While Centeno was originally hired as the Assistant Chief, he now leads one of the largest contingent of law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County.
“I’ve grown to love this organization and all the members,” said Centeno. “They are very proud of the agency and want this organization to be the best airport law enforcement and security agency in the nation. When you have that kind of desire, my job is to provide direction and vision on how to get there.”
“We need to be giving of ourselves in this position,” Centeno tells his officers when they confront challenges at the airport.
Centeno, however, has been giving himself to others since he was a teen, growing up in a large family of four boys and five girls in the Santa Monica and Venice area. Centeno was determined from the time he was a teen to pursue a career in the military or law enforcement. After serving in the military, including a tour in South Korea, Centeno left and joined the SMPD where he served from 1977 to 2004. During his time with the SMPD, Centeno was decorated with a Life Saving Medal and Medal of Courage. To Centeno, however, these honors are merely accents to an intrinsically rewarding position of serving others.
“It’s not the stars [on my collar]; it’s my soul and integrity,” Centeno said.
Although Centeno intended to retire after his work in the SMPD, he took the job at LAX because he missed working in law enforcement. Centeno keeps his work life and home life balanced by painting and sculpting, which keeps his mind open and his spirit healthy.
“Art is a balance for me because in art, there is no right or wrong,” Centeno said. “[Art] helped me to see that there is room for discretion in our lives.”
Centeno’s devotion to law enforcement leads him to believe that he will serve for as long as he can at LAX.
“We are all given these gifts,” Centeno said. “It just depends on how we use them.”