CITY HALL — Aviation security officers and several aldermen Tuesday blasted a move to strip the officers of their police powers, saying it jeopardizes the safety of passengers at O'Hare and Midway airports.
Chicago Aviation Department Commissioner Ginger Evans announced earlier this month that she would move ahead on a plan to rebrand the force in the wake of the fracas that erupted April 9 after officers dragged a Louisville doctor off United Airlines flight and seriously injured him.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board stripped the 292-officer security force of their authority to enforce warrants or ticket vehicles at the city's two airports — a move that rendered the force "useless," said Aurelius Cole, who has been an officer for 17½ years.
"Our hands are tied," Cole said.
However, aviation department officials said in a statement that the board's action would have no impact on the typical duties of an aviation security officer.
"The Aviation Security Officers have always had an important and integral role in the overall security enterprise at both airports and they will continue in that vital role,” said Andrew Velasquez III, the managing deputy commissioner for safety and security at the airports.
The Service Employee International Union, which represents the officers, has sued the city, alleging that the removal of the term police from their vehicles and uniforms and the restrictions on their duties violates the employees' labor agreement with the city.
The force has also taken a vote of no confidence in Evans.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said Evans needs authorization from the City Council to change the force's duties, and said he planned to introduce a measure requiring hearings before more changes are made and restoring the officers' police powers.
"Evans overreached beyond her authority," Munoz said.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said the move is a "step backward" and threatens the city's ability to prevent a terrorist attack at O'Hare and Midway airports.
In addition, Aviation security officers — who cost the city $19 million annually — were blocked by the City Council from responding to disturbances on airplanes, officials said. Chicago police officers are the lead law enforcement agency at both airports, officials said.
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," officials said.
"The Chicago Department of Aviation has two key goals: ensuring safety and security for all passengers and making sure another incident like the one on United Airlines 3411 never happens again," Velasquez said.
While being removed from Flight 3411, Dr. David Dao's nose was broken, two of his front teeth were lost, and he suffered a concussion during the incident.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said Dao "was begging for trouble" and Munoz said the aviation security officers were the subject of "very few complaints" during their 30 years since the force was formed.