Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday sidestepped a question about the future of Chicago’s aviation police force following worldwide attention drawn by officers dragging a passenger off of a United Airlines flight at O’Hare International Airport.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the April 9 incident, Emanuel would say only that a thorough review of the situation is being conducted. The unarmed airport cops are in the middle of the debacle, with Dr. David Dao of Kentucky considering a lawsuit against the city for the injuries and trauma he suffered when the officers pulled him off the plane after he refused to give up his seat so an airline employee could have it.
Emanuel declined to say whether he thinks the force that patrols the airports should be disbanded. And he didn’t answer directly when asked why one of the officers was wearing a jacket that said “police” even after Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans said she had told the airport officers months earlier to stop identifying themselves that way.
“(Evans) is in the middle, right now, of a total top-to-bottom review that in the next two to three weeks should be out, and I don’t want to prejudge that effort,” the mayor said during a news conference in the Calumet Heights neighborhood to announce the beginning of street paving season.
“What happened the other day is totally, all around, unacceptable,” added the mayor, who complimented Evans for placing the three officers who boarded the plane on paid leave.
Asked whether United had done enough to respond to the Dao incident, Emanuel said only that “we have our work ahead of us, and my focus is to make sure what we do at Aviation is the correct thing to do.”
Emanuel hasn’t been a fan of the push by the unarmed aviation police to be allowed to carry guns, and he stuck a fork in that proposal Monday in light of the United incident.
“There have been some questions by some people over the last couple years about allowing those aviation officers to carry a gun,” the mayor said. “As you know, my administration has opposed that, and I think it’s pretty clear that’s wrong.”
During a City Council hearing last week, a top city official told aldermen that operating procedures bar aviation officers from boarding a plane “if it’s a customer service issue.”
“If it is a customer service-related incident, then you don’t need to board the plane at all,” said Jeff Redding, the department’s deputy commissioner of safety and security. “If there’s no threat, there’s no imminent threat or no charges being drawn, then you don’t need to board the plane. There’s no purpose for it.”
Asked if Dao’s refusal to leave the plane was a customer service issue, Redding declined to respond directly.
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