SAN PEDRO, Calif. (KABC) --Keeping the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach safe from terrorists falls, in part, on the shoulders of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's little known Maritime Cadre.
It's a team of Special Enforcement Bureau officers tasked with patrolling the 800 square miles of ocean in and around the shipping hubs. They do it with sophisticated equipment designed to detect biological, chemical and nuclear materials.
"Sixty percent of everything that comes to the United States comes through these two ports here. So if you shut this down, you shut down a lot of the United States commerce," Sgt. Mick Kelleher said.
Radiation is a big concern at the port, where cargo ships from around the world nuzzle up to the shoreline. Onboard the Maritime Cadre's Ocean Rescue 2 vessel is an ultra-sensitive detection system that can sniff out dirty bomb material before it makes it to the docks.
"Gamma and neutron radiation - that's what nuclear weapons or dirty bombs are made from," Kelleher said.
That equipment is also mounted in the sheriff's department's Air5 helicopter. Eyewitness New tagged along with the Cadre as they scanned cargo ships headed to port. The crew also sporting a low-tech tool - Johnny Ringo. He is billed as America's only chemical and biological detection K-9.
"He does anthrax, ricin, nerve agents, blister agents, toxins. He's probably done about 150 ship boardings," Deputy Wayne Carpini said.
Underwater inspections are a reality as well. Submersibles can make sure ships aren't hiding threats outside of the hulls.
But while the OR2 is designed to carry all the fancy detection gear - there is also the Raptor. It's a 31-foot speed boat. It is the over-watch vehicle providing security for inspections.
The Maritime Cadre is not well-known. The guys said most members of the sheriff's department aren't even aware of it.