Aviation Department needs better training, not consolidation

By Editorial Board

The April 9 viral video of a bloodied David Dao  dragged off a United Airlines flight at O’Hare International Airport spurred local aldermen to propose solutions for city aviation security’s rare but violent outbursts.

During an April 19 Chicago City Council meeting, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th Ward) proposed the Aviation Department security force be consolidated into the Chicago Police Department, preferably within the next 60 days, according to a Chicago Tribune article of the same date.

Should that happen, CPD would be the main source of security and its officers would be allowed to carry weapons at airports. If he’s trying to solve this problem, Lopez—a former skycap who handled luggage and performed curbside check-ins at Chicago Midway International Airport—shouldn’t ignore the trust issues between Chicagoans and CPD officers. Bringing guns into an airport will do nothing but exacerbate those issues. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly rejected allowing aviation police to carry firearms saying, “It’s pretty clear that’s wrong.” While Emanuel  made the correct move, Lopez’s idea to bring in a corrupt department responsible for nearly 100 civilian deaths in the last six years is troubling. CPD has enough to tackle in its own department, including its officers’ need for better training.

Approximately 300 aviation officers worked Chicago’s two main airports—Midway and O’Hare—and most are part- and full-time certified police officers. Although separate from the local police force, aviation security has to meet the same minimum standards, including psychological and physical tests.

Lopez might have assumed Aviation Department training would be improved by consolidating the departments, preventing violent situations. However, with CPD’s brutal history, offering aviation officers the same training as CPD officers would do nothing but create more injuries.

Another difference is that aviation officers are allowed to “temporarily detain” passengers until CPD arrives but cannot make an official arrest or file an arrest report.

With two departments suffering from poor training, both have resorted to unjustifiable violence. The solution is not to consolidate but to train aviation security properly. There are many differences between working in the field and at an airport, which include the rare instance of an airport shooting. Officers who work in an airport need to be trained appropriately to accurately do their jobs.

The bigger picture includes the citywide inability to train officers in the streets and in the airport. If city officials want to ensure people’s safety and well-being, they shouldn’t advocate a solution that means more guns, potential job loss and a bigger budget. Instead, they should ensure that those who are meant to protect the public know how to do their jobs.