Bernard Wilson, Retired Chief of the LA Airport Police Dept. and longtime Officer, passed away June 14 in Nashville. He was 70.
Chief Wilson headed the Airport Police from 1999 to 2005, when he retired. He was a career-long Club Member.
“The Los Angeles Airport Police mourns the passing of its esteemed retired leader, Chief Bernard J. Wilson, whose visionary leadership transformed the division from a security force into a state-certified police division,” wrote current Chief Cecil Rhambo in the department’s monthly bulletin. “Chief Wilson’s dedication and innovative approach led to the creation of specialized units such as Dignitary Protection, K-9, and Motorcycle Units. His profound impact on the department’s evolution and commitment to safety have left an indelible mark on Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and its surrounding communities.”
“To merge his love of aviation and police work, Bernie joined the Los Angeles International Airport Police Dept.,” his widow, Diane, told Alive! “Bernie started out as a patrol officer at LAX in January 1979. He always felt that those first two years of being a Patrol Officer were the best years of his career,” she continued. “He loved going undercover, driving around the airport, going to court – he never lost a case, helping people, and especially catching the bad guys.
“Bernie was rapidly promoted through the ranks to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain and then Chief. During that time, he was responsible for the safety of more than 140 million travelers annually. Bernie earned and was awarded the Supervisory and Management Executive Certificates – the highest awards the California Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission offers,” she said.
Chief Wilson served as a key decision maker for numerous major crisis incidents, including airplane crashes, labor disputes, bomb threats, natural disasters, industrial accidents, major crime events, and terrorist incidents; most significantly 9-11. He instructed hundreds of Police and Security Officers from around the world in aviation security, terrorism and traveler victimization.
“Under Chief Wilson’s guidance, the Los Angeles Airport Police underwent a remarkable transformation, transitioning from a security force to a fully certified police division,” Chief Rhambo wrote. “This transition elevated the professionalism, capabilities and responsibilities of the division’s Officers … This achievement bolstered public trust and strengthened collaborative relationships with other law enforcement agencies.”
Chief Rhambo continued:
“Chief Wilson implemented comprehensive training programs, emphasizing situational awareness, de-escalation techniques, and community policing strategies. By fostering strong relationships with the local community, Chief Wilson ensured that the Los Angeles Airport Police was responsive to the needs of the diverse populations it served. Chief Wilson’s legacy is one of safety, professionalism, and a dedication to building bridges between law enforcement and the community.
“The passing of Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Bernard J. Wilson leaves a significant void in the law enforcement community,” Chief Rhambo concluded. “His legacy of excellence, innovation and community engagement will continue to shape the future of the Los Angeles Airport Police leaving an enduring impact on airport security practices nationwide.”
Outside the Department
“Even though Bernie had an enviable career in law enforcement, was active in Civil Air Patrol and served in his church as a Subdeacon, he never lost sight of the fact that his family was the most important thing in life,” his widow, Diane, recalled. “Some people knew him as a Police Officer, a pilot, an enlisted man, a civil air patrol officer, a clergyman, or a family man; others knew him as a problem solver, mentor, life advice giver, a Trivial Pursuit expert (except for that sports wedge), a dinosaur, a camp director, Girl Scout leader, and a Cossack, but no matter the capacity in which you knew him, he was always there to be a friend.
Bernie Wilson was born in Preston, England on Jan 19, 1953. He served in the United States Army. He was active in Civil Air Patrol for more than 50 years and was accorded a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
“He loved being a Club Member,” his widow, Diane, said. “He read every issue of Alive! and looked forward to receiving it.”
Celebration of Life Oct. 8
A local celebration of his life is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 8, at the LAX Flight Path Museum, 6661 W. Imperial Highway, LA. All who knew him are invited.
A funeral was held June 21 at St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Brentwood, Tennessee.
He always read every issue and looked forward to receiving it.
In lieu of flowers, donations be made to Officer Down, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement officers and their families (www.odmp.org) and/or your favorite charity.
The Club sends its deepest condolences to his widow, Diane, his family,
and all those who called him Chief, friend, or both.
The Club thanks Janice Guevara, Retired, Airports, for helping us produce this obituary.