Aldermen worry that downgrading aviation police force could hurt public safety

FOX 32 NEWS - Some Chicago aldermen are questioning plans to downgrade the city's aviation police force in the wake of last month's viral video showing a man getting dragged off a United Airlines flight.

The city's aviation commissioner wants to strip the word "police" off the uniforms of nearly 300 employees and re-classify their jobs as security guards.

Wearing uniforms with the word "police" clearly visible, about 50 of the Aviation Police Department's 292 officers turned out at a City Council hearing as Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans told aldermen she believes the officers should be re-designated as security guards.

"They are not today police officers in the city of Chicago. They are not sworn in by the police superintendent and they do not have that designation today,” Evans said.
    
Evans argues the aviation officers don't carry guns and most arrests are handled by Chicago police officers assigned to O’Hare and Midway. But aviation officers say the city shouldn't be changing decades of policy because of one video, pointing out they do get trained at the Police Academy.

"We've been removing people from planes since I started in 2000. We've always been removing people from planes,” said Aviation Officer Aurelius Cole.

"That'll put our safety at risk. That'll put the flying public at risk. It's very hard to respect the police as it is, but once you've downgraded to security, it's just gonna make the job very difficult,” said Aviation Officer Johnny Jimmerson.

The Aviation Committee did approve new rules prohibiting any city employee from removing a passenger from a plane unless it's for medical or security reasons.

Aldermen say the city shouldn't be helping airlines do their dirty work when they overbook a flight.

“The confusion was on the employees and management of United Airlines. It was their confusion in managing their sets on the airplane,” said Alderman John Arena.

Commissioner Evans also wants to hire an Israeli airport security company to do a full review of security at Chicago's airports. But she got some blowback from aldermen questioning whether that job might not be better done by a local company, and questioning the expense.

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