Chief of Chicago's Aviation Police Announces Abrupt Departure

After repeated inquiries, the Emanuel administration insisted Chief Richard Edgeworth had not resigned, but rather had chosen to return to his previous post in the Chicago Fire Department

The chief of Chicago’s Aviation Police, target of an overwhelming no-confidence vote by his own officers, announced his abrupt departure Friday, telling those officers that moving forward, they should “always be positive, and not dwell on the negative.”

After repeated inquiries, the Emanuel administration insisted Chief Richard Edgeworth had not resigned, but rather had chosen to return to his previous post in the Chicago Fire Department.

“We commend Chief Edgeworth for his years of service and his steadfast dedication to safety and security for travelers and employees at both of Chicago’s airports,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said in a statement.  “His leadership and commitment to emergency preparedness and training strengthened partnerships at the airlines and over 30 local, state, and federal agencies at O’Hare and Midway International Airports.”

Veteran officers in the O’Hare and Midway force argued it was that commitment to training which sparked a 96 percent no-confidence vote last year.  The officers bristled at a department policy which forbade them to carry weapons, even though they were required to take mandatory weapons training and qualify on the weapons they were not allowed to use.

Matt Brandon, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees Union Local 73, which represents the officers, called the relationship between his members and the outgoing chief “contentious.”

“The union was of the mind that aviation police officers needed to be armed in this day of high threat to airports, and the chief thought that they shouldn’t be armed,” he said. “We wish him well in his new job.”

Brandon noted the officers were trained by the Chicago Police Department at the Police Academy and that that they had to re-qualify annually.

“Under Chief Edgeworth there was a TSA training that they were committed to taking and following that required that they run and hide until the threat level was over,” Brandon said. “We think that our officers are endangered, they’re uniformed, so any threat would recognize them immediately, and they would be the initial target.  Thinking that they would have the opportunity to run and hide is just unimaginable.”

In his letter to officers, Edgeworth thanked them for welcoming him into the airport family.

“It has truly been an honor and privilege to serve,” he said. “As a team, we have demonstrated day-in and  day-out why our Chicago Airport system is the best.”

“Go to work every day with a smile on your face because you love what you are doing,” Edgeworth said. “It is OK to disagree—Respect everyone’s input and work towards a joint resolution.  Never hold a grudge.”

Edgeworth asked the officers to welcome a new Managing Deputy Commissioner of Safety and Security, Lydia Beairsto.

Last year in a high level dustup, one of those officers was briefly detained by Chicago Police, when he came to work with a holster attached to his belt. A Chicago Police 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 said that the lieutenant ordered that the officer’s Department of Aviation vehicle be searched.

No weapon was discovered.

In an angry letter to then-superintendent Garry McCarthy, Brandon said airport officers had worked together with CPD officers, “and have never been treated as common criminals.”

“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 said.

After that incident last September, CPD spokesman Andrew Guglielmi said the Chicago officers had only done what they should do in any incident where a firearm is potentially involved.

“By law, CPD is the only policing authority at the airport that 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.”

It was that incident which sparked the no-confidence vote, O’Hare officers charging that Edgeworth had failed to back to back them up.

Brandon indicated that he has asked members of the city council to provide legislation which would allow the arming of the aviation officers. Aviation Department spokesman Owen Kilmer said there no plans to change that policy.

“As city-owned airports, the Chicago Police Department is the primary law enforcement agency at O’Hare and Midway International Airports,” Kilmer said in an emailed statement. “The Aviation Security Officers play an important, supplementary role in keeping O’Hare and Midway safe by overseeing access points throughout the airports.”

“Thanks to the hard work of all the security officers who help keep O’Hare and Midway safe, and the current security structure in place, violent crime incidents at O’Hare and Midway are extremely low—ensuring that the millions of passengers who fly through Chicago each year feel secure at the airports.”

Beairsto previously served as the Airport Security Manager for the Port Authority of New York, and as Director of Public Safety and Security for the Airports Council International-North America.

Her Linked-In profile lists a Bachelor of Science degree from Lewis University in Romeoville, with a major concentration in Airport Administration.

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