Trouble is brewing between the two primary law enforcement agencies at Chicago’s airports, as the union representing officers of the Chicago Aviation Police Department has issued an angry complaint to Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, over a dispute last week at O’Hare. Aviation officers were so outraged by the incident, that they took a “no-confidence” vote on their chief this week, when they felt he had failed to back them up.
The Aviation Police are a separate, unarmed department, assigned to the terminals at O’Hare and Midway.
At issue is an incident September 9, when Aviation Police officers were assisting Chicago Police by transporting the victim of an altercation to the CPD headquarters at O’Hare. According to Service Employees Union Local 73, which represents the Aviation Police, as the officers were departing the station, a Chicago Police lieutenant noticed that one of the aviation officers had an empty holster on his duty belt. The lieutenant allegedly ordered that the aviation officer be stopped and questioned about whether he had a weapon. When he responded that he did not, the union says the lieutenant ordered that his Department of Aviation vehicle be searched. No weapon was discovered.
In a letter to McCarthy, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Matt Brandon called the police actions “insulting, demeaning, and unnecessary.”
“APO’s have worked together with the CPD Officers, and have never been treated as common criminals,” he wrote. “This breach of confidence in the men and women of the Aviation Police Department has severely damaged a working relationship that has been established over years of cooperation between the two departments.”
Brandon added that the lieutenant’s “zeal for the recovery of unauthorized weapons would be best put to use on the streets of Chicago where gun violence proliferates threatening the lives of this great city.”
The incident so angered the 300 O’Hare and Midway officers, that they took a de-facto “no confidence” vote on their chief, Richard Edgeworth, alleging that he had failed to back them up. The union says that vote was 96% against the chief, who did not return calls seeking comment.
The dispute is the latest in an ongoing controversy over whether the aviation police officers should be armed. Officially, they are required to train as police officers, and all are reportedly qualified on weapons. But they do not carry guns.
CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi acknowledged the incident, but indicated police were only what they should do in any incident where a firearm is involved.
“By law, CPD is the only policing authority at the airport can be armed with a gun,” he said. “At the end of the day, an officer had a holster on him.”
“We have an obligation to search for that gun,” Guglielmi said. “If it ends up in a secure area, we’re accountable for that.”
A union spokesman countered that while airport police are not allowed to carry weapons on the job, “they are required to maintain state certification every year to carry a gun. It’s incredibly backwards.”
The spokesman said the aviation officer had a holster on his belt after leaving another job and hadn’t taken it off.