CHICAGO — Police officers will take the lead in responding to disturbances at Chicago's two airports and the word "police" will be removed from the uniforms of non-police security officers, the aviation department announced Wednesday, responding to an April incident in which security officers dragged a passenger from a packed United Airlines flight.
The city's Department of Aviation released a report outlining the changes it will make to how the airports are policed. Cellphone video showing Kentucky physician David Dao being pulled off the plane at O'Hare International Airport showed that at least one security officer had the word "police" on his uniform. That will change under the new rules, which will also replace the word with new decals on security officers' vehicles.
"We are confident that these actions are necessary to guide our department forward, while improving clarity for the aviation security officers," Commissioner Ginger Evans said in a news release.
Aviation department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the day-to-day duties of the unarmed security officers at O'Hare and Midway International Airport won't change much. They will continue to monitor access to secure and restrict areas at the airports, handle traffic control and support city police officers and fire fighters.
Video of Dao being pulled from the United flight while awaiting a trip home to Kentucky became a public relations nightmare for the airline and the aviation department, sending them scrambling to contain the damage. Dao was forcibly removed because he refused to give up his seat on the fully-book flight to extra airline personnel. His lawyer said he suffered a concussion, broken nose and lost teeth.
While the airline reached a financial settlement with Dao before he had even filed a lawsuit, the aviation department fired its head of security.
But a tense City Council hearing revealed confusion about the role of the security officers. Evans, for example, said aviation officers had been told months before the Dao incident to remove the word "police" from their clothing and replace it with "security," but that no one followed through. And a deputy commissioner said aviation officers were under instructions not to board planes unless there was an imminent threat.
While other cities have sworn, armed airport police officers, in Chicago, the airports are staffed by 200 armed city police officers and 300 unarmed aviation officers.
Evans told the Chicago Tribune that in preparing the report, she consulted with an Israeli airport security organization and reviewed the procedures at other U.S. airports.
In the news release, the department said it was taking action to "clarify" the role of the security officers taking steps to "improve consistency in roles, training and coordinated functions" of the aviation security officers."