O'HARE — Aviation security officers will be stripped of the right to call themselves police, Chicago officials announced Wednesday — despite pleas from the officers themselves and some aldermen that the move would jeopardize the safety of passengers at O'Hare and Midway airports.
Chicago Aviation Department Commissioner Ginger Evans said she would move ahead with her plan to rebrand the force in the wake of the fracas that erupted April 9 after officers dragged a Louisville doctor off a United Airlines flight and seriously injured him.
"We are confident that these actions are necessary to guide our department forward, while improving clarity for the Aviation security officers who play an integral role in maintaining safe and secure conditions for the traveling public at both of Chicago’s airports," Evans said, rejecting an effort by 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez to make the 292-officer Aviation security force a part of the Chicago Police Department.
City officials "will order the Aviation security division to adopt new insignia, replacing current uniforms improperly utilizing the word police, and will take immediate action to replace the word 'police' with new security decals on department vehicles," Evans said in a report issued Wednesday about the O'Hare incident.
Evans first ordered the change in January, but ran into a wall of opposition.
"It is a very bad idea to take 'police' off of their badges," Ald. Nicolas Sposato (38th) said in May. "People respect officers much more than they do security guards."
The Service Employee International Union, which represents the officers, filed an objection to the removal of the term police from their vehicles and uniforms. That objection is pending before state Labor Department officials.
Matt Brandon, who represents several dozen Aviation security sergeants, said he believed Evans was laying the groundwork to fire the existing officers and replace them with "security guards that are paid $15 an hour."
In addition, Aviation security officers — who cost the city $19 million annually — will no longer take the lead when there is a disturbance on an airplane or in the airport, Evans said. Instead, Chicago police officers will handle those incidents.
Three Aviation security officers have been suspended with pay in connection with their role in the April incident. City of Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has completed his review of the employees' conduct, and officials are "moving forward with the disciplinary process," Evans said.
Read the full report from Evans: