Chicago’s $19 million-a-year force of 292 unarmed aviation police officers would have the word “police” restored to their badges, uniforms and vehicles and retain the powers stripped away from them, under an ordinance proposed Wednesday by a former cop-turned-alderman.
Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the officers, has already accused Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans of “scapegoating” the officers for the April 9 passenger dragging fiasco aboard United Airlines Flight 3411 to divert attention from “her own failed policies and mismanagement.”
Now, West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) wants to reverse the moves that Evans has already made to neuter the security force that was blamed for dragging a flailing and bloodied Dr. David Dao down the aisle when the doctor refused to give up his seat for a United crew member who needed to get to Louisville.
RELATED: Sun-Times archive on Dr. David Dao
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Taliaferro introduced an ordinance to restore the word “police” to the officers’ badges, uniforms and vehicles. Equally important, the ordinance would restore their police powers, instead of requiring them to “stand down” and summon Chicago Police officers to the scene of emergencies at O’Hare and Midway airports.
The ordinance was unveiled at a City Hall news conference that included some of the officers and a handful of progressive aldermen.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), a former Southwest Airlines skycap at Midway, portrayed the move as critical to public safety.
“Individuals come to airports to do harm to people. … The threats to our city are real. They are great. The opportunities that present themselves at airports do exist. The line must not be weakened. … The men and women behind me strengthen that line every day at our airports by putting their own lives at risk,” Lopez said.
“They are not security officers. They are not stand-bys until the police get there. … They are the men and women I have seen personally intercede on our city’s behalf to maintain the integrity and safety of our airports on a day-to-day basis.”
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said the word “police” alone is pivotal to the officers.
“Nobody respects security guards nowadays. They barely respect police officers in this world. We’re in a climate that’s just out-of-control, anti-police,” Sposato said.
Earlier this year, Evans responded to the Dao incident by announcing that the unarmed officers would survive, but only after their roles are minimized, their training is overhauled and they lose the word “police.”
Two aviation security officers have been fired — and a suspended officer has resigned — for their roles in the April 9 passenger dragging fiasco.
Five-day suspensions were handed to two other aviation security officers who boarded the plane; the incident, captured on cellphone video, went viral and gave Chicago and United an international black eye.
One suspension was reduced to two days after a grievance. The other suspended officer filed a grievance, then withdrew it and resigned.
On Wednesday, Jeffrey Howard, chief of staff for SEIU Local 73, asked if the officers did anything wrong, continued to defend them.
At first, Howard said: “We believe our officers used the appropriate force in that matter. It was a very unfortunate incident.”
Then, he said, “It was a difficult situation. … There was a way it could have potentially been done different. But there was blame to be had on all parties.”
Taliaferro was pushing to arm the aviation officers before the passenger-dragging incident. Wednesday, he accused Evans of overreacting.
“To de-commission a police department — to strip away police powers from an entire department is completely wrong,” Taliaferro said. “If that is the premise, then the Chicago Police Department should be no more. The LA Police Department should be no more. The New York Police Department should be no more.”
During City Council budget hearings, Evans was raked over the coals again for that decision. In response, Evans assured aldermen she has no intention of eliminating the in-house force.