Aldermen say aviation commissioner can’t change police rules after United dragging incident

The city aviation commissioner’s move to decommission the airport police at O’Hare and Midway airports in the wake of the infamous dragging of a passenger from a United flight by two of the officers was beyond her authority, a group of aldermen said Tuesday.

The aldermen contend only the City Council can take such a step. They plan to introduce an order Wednesday calling for Commissioner Ginger Evans to testify at a hearing on her decision to remove the word “police” from the about 290 officers’ uniforms and remove them as the lead responders on disturbance calls at the airports and on planes.

“We are not going to just stand here and just allow the unilateral move by the Department of Aviation to make them monitors,” Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, said. He joined eight other aldermen and more than two dozen airport officers at a City Hall news conference to announce the move.

The airport police got international scrutiny after an April incident in which airport officers dragged passenger Dr. David Dao off an overbooked flight. Video of the incident got worldwide attention as it was shared on social media, resulting in an apology from United’s CEO and changes to company procedures.

Evans subsequently issued an order changing the rules for the force, which is represented by the Service Employees International Union. The group of aldermen say that because the airport force was created decades ago by City Council vote, only they can make that kind of change.

Their proposed order calls for Evans to cease any steps to “further transition” the officers’ roles, and says the officers should continue to perform their duties as outlined in municipal code at least until the hearings take place.

Aldermen stopped short Tuesday, though, of saying airport officers should not adhere to the new standards Evans has set. “We want to have the conversation in the City Council about on what authority is she decommissioning this police department,” Munoz said.

Asked about the aldermen’s move, Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman responded with an email statement from Andrew Velasquez III, the recently hired deputy commissioner of safety and security at the Aviation Department.

The statement did not directly address the proposed City Council order, instead saying “aviation security officers” have an important role to play in “ensuring safety and security for all passengers and making sure another incident like the one on United Airlines 3411 never happens again.”

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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