Battle Over Airport Police Intensifies

The festering war of words between the Emanuel administration and Chicago’s embattled Aviation Police ratcheted up a notch Tuesday, as a group of aldermen said they would challenge efforts to strip the officers of their police powers.

“There are not enough police on the streets in Chicago,” officer Aurelius Cole declared at a City Hall briefing. “But you want to dismantle a police department.”

At issue, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans’ effort to redefine the unarmed officers once and for all as a security force, not police. Earlier this month, responding to a new delineation of duties, the state officially took away the aviation department’s certification as a bona fide police department.

“She wants us to actually sit back, and call the Chicago police if we see something occurring,” Cole said. “If we see some kind of unruly passengers at a gate, we are to wait and call, not take action like we are trained to do!”

Several aldermen declared they will attempt to block Evans’ actions in the City Council, demanding that she appear in a public hearing to explain her intentions regarding the aviation officers.

“Chicago, by deactivating their police department, are taking a step backwards,” 29th ward alderman Chris Taliaferro declared. “What commissioner Evans has done is put our airports in jeopardy!”

The aldermen said they will introduce an order, to unilaterally restore the officers powers until a time when Evans appears. But the Department of Aviation insists the officers were never authorized to act as full-fledged police.

“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,” security chief Andrew Velasquez said in a statement. “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.”

In outlining her new vision for the department, Evans said she did not want them referred to as “police” in either uniform insignia or vehicle markings, declaring that a similar two-tier policing approach is used at most of the 20 top airports across the country.

“This is the way it’s done,” Evans told NBC5 two weeks ago. “It’s well understood outside Chicago.”

Evans said she did not want armed security officers working on the secure side of the airport, where she said the majority of the aviation officers are assigned.

“I don’t care about personalities, I care about performance,” she said. “We expect them to embrace and perform these duties.”

But aldermen bristled at any lesser designation.

“They’re a working class force that provides security for O’Hare airport,” said 41st ward alderman Anthony Napolitano. “We’re putting the city of Chicago, its residents, and O’Hare airport in jeopardy.”

Alderman Rick Munoz told reporters the changes amounted to making the officers “monitors” who could merely watch as lawbreaking took place.

“These are first responders,” he said. “They are on the scene, they are trained, and they should be considered police officers.”

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