Rahm Emanuel casts doubt on future of aviation security force

SHARE Rahm Emanuel casts doubt on future of aviation security force

Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld whispering in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ear Monday at a Far South Side news conference called to kick off street repaving season in Chicago | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

Viral video of a bloodied man being dragged off a United Airlines flight underscores why the city’s aviation security officers should not be armed, Mayor Rahm Emanuel maintained Monday, saying he would await the outcome of a broader review to determine whether the city force should exist at all.

In his first public comment about the embarrassing fiasco, Emanuel branded the incident involving Dr. David Dao as “totally, all-around unacceptable.”

The mayor praised Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans for placing three aviation security officers who boarded the plane — even though they are not supposed to get involved in customer service complaints — on paid administrative leave.

“There’s been some question by some people over the last couple of years about allowing those aviation officers to carry a gun. … My administration has opposed that. I think that’s pretty clear that’s wrong,” the mayor said.

The mayor was careful not to criticize United — not when city employees were partly to blame for the fiasco.

“We have our work ahead of us. My focus is making sure that, what we do at aviation is the correct thing to do. Ginger did the right thing by suspending the three employees that violated the rules and second, having a top to bottom review of what the rules are going forward,” the mayor said.

The mayor was asked how he felt when he saw the video played around the world that has become a symbol of passenger discontent with the flying experience.

“What happened is totally, all-around unacceptable. … Everybody had the same [reaction] from the people who were watching it live to the rest of us who saw it on the video. You already knew that was wrong. You don’t need a set of rules or guidelines to know that was wrong,” he said.

Last week, Evans expressed her “extreme regret” for the incident. But her evasive testimony before the City Council’s Aviation Committee exposed broader questions about the state of security at O’Hare Airport.

Under pointed questioning, Evans revealed that she had ordered aviation security officers to remove the word “police” from their uniforms.

But she could not explain why the directive she issued in January was not enforced and why the video clearly shows the word “police” on the jacket of at least one of the three aviation security officers who boarded the plane.

Even more infuriating to aldermen was the fact that O’Hare security chief Jeff Redding could not articulate what, if any, use of force policy had been given to aviation security officers.

On Monday, Emanuel was asked to chart the path going forward.

If aviation security officers were responsible for such a major embarrassment to Chicago and the O’Hare security chief cannot even say whether there is even a use of force policy for them, why should the $19 million-a-year, 292-officer force should continue to exist at all?

“The answer to the question is Ginger’s gonna run her operation. She’s gonna run her review. It’s gonna be reported back in the next two to three weeks. And there will be a lot of answers of what we’re gonna do going forward that may be different,” the mayor said.

“But the ultimate here is what happened on the plane. And we’re gonna make sure that we change the conduct as it relates to us.”

Also on Monday, Emanuel disclosed that he’s planning to strengthen the rules governing party buses yet again, this time to prohibit passengers from carrying concealed weapons aboard party buses.

Although he would prefer having the Illinois General Assembly amend the concealed carry law to put party buses in the same “no guns” category as bars and restaurants, the mayor said he’s no longer prepared to wait after Chicago Police officers prevented a potentially violent confrontation last weekend.

“There are some fly-by-night actors. They’ve been operating in the land of loopholes. We’re gonna tighten those loopholes,” the mayor said.

“We’re going to do everything within our power to push the envelope to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe and secure. … They’re looking right now at how to push the envelope to keep guns off party buses.”

The mayor also revealed that he has joined U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in sending a letter to U.S. Steel demanding answers about a chemical spill at one of the company’s plants, causing a chemical known as hexavalent chromium to be found in Chicago’s drinking water.

And Emanuel said he has reached out to newly-elected Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, whose election will make it more difficult for Emanuel to negotiate disciplinary changes in the new police contract demanded by the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Graham has criticized his vanquished predecessor for cooperating with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation he should have opposed and for encouraging his members to speak with Justice Department investigators “without legal representation.”

But Emanuel said, “We have an obligation as leaders — both of us — to work on behalf of the well-being of the city of Chicago.”

The mayor added, “While he won the election, we have to work on behalf of the residents to give them security, give our officers the training that they need to do the job at the highest professional standards that allows them to be pro-active.”

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