Follow @MarkBrownCSTThirty years ago Mayor Richard M. Daley turned O’Hare Airport’s security guards into their own certified police force within the Aviation Department, and for nearly as long, those officers have been agitating for the right to carry guns like the real police.
On Sunday night, it took just a few seconds for one of those officers to set back the campaign to arm the city’s aviation police by about 30 years.
In an astonishing display of poor judgment captured on video by the cellphones of multiple passengers boarding a United Airlines flight to Louisville, an aviation police officer at O’Hare forcibly dragged a limp passenger down the aisle after bloodying his face when he refused to leave his seat.
By all accounts, this was not some unruly troublemaker who posed any threat to his fellow passengers.
Follow @MarkBrownCSTThis was a man who objected to being forced to give up his seat on the flight after the airline said it needed extra seats to get some personnel to Louisville for a flight the following morning.
Witnesses say the man identified himself as a doctor and that he needed to be home by the next morning, too, to see patients. I don’t even know if that’s true, but it shouldn’t matter.
There’s plenty of shaming to go around in this incident, starting with United for allowing matters to reach the point of physical force and for later making an embarrassingly weak apology.
But it also raises new questions about the professionalism of the aviation police, who receive more training and are better paid than private security guards, but receive less training and pay than members of the Chicago Police Department.
The aviation police were originally created to better professionalize airport security while also keeping down costs.
But from the start, there has been an argument over whether they should be authorized to carry guns to deal with emergencies, which their level of training would allow if they were working for say a suburban police department. The city has argued it’s not necessary and that more people carrying guns would make the airports less secure not more.
Just recently in response to a new push by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) to arm the 300 aviation officers who work at O’Hare and Midway, Finance Chairman Edward Burke (14th) suggested incorporating them into the Police Department at a lesser level to make that possible.
Other options are to turn their duties over to Chicago police, who also staff the airports, or to a private security firm. But, as it is, we can’t hire enough police to deal with our violent neighborhoods, and armed private security poses its own problems.
I know better than to judge this issue on the basis of one incident, but I’m extremely doubtful many of the passengers aboard Flight 3411 would have felt more secure if the three uniformed officers who carried out the airline’s dirty work were carrying firearms.
Anybody who flies enough has been in this situation where the airline overbooks a flight and then tries to bribe passengers to voluntarily give up their seat.
You do the calculation in your mind: How badly do I need to get to my destination today? At what price would I be willing to wait for another flight?
Heck, I don’t even fly that much, and I’ve been in a similar circumstance as this Louisville flight where the airline screwed up and boarded the flight before realizing it needed extra seats.
In that instance as in this case, a supervisor came on the plane and made a threat: this plan is going nowhere until X number of you give up your seat.
It never occurred to me that instead of offering more money to make it irresistible to some passenger they could summon the police to enforce their will.