Chicago’s airport officers could be allowed to carry guns

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CHICAGO –Aviation police officers at Chicago’s two airports would be allowed to carry guns under an ordinance proposed in the wake of a CNN investigation.

The ordinance, introduced at a city council meeting this week by Alderman Chris Taliaferro, would change a long-standing policy that keeps the officers unarmed when they are on duty at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports.

“This should have been done a long time ago,” Taliaferro told CNN on Friday. “To be honest with you, I’m very afraid in situations where we do have increased terrorist attacks, we may be vulnerable in not arming the aviation police.”

Taliaferro, an attorney and former veteran Chicago police officer, said it made no sense for trained law enforcement officers not to carry a gun while on duty.

“We are leaving our officers at a risk of harm. It leaves the city wide open to liability,” he said.

A CNN investigation in December revealed that the nearly 300 aviation police officers are not only unarmed, but they are instructed to “run and hide” in the event of an active shooter. Officers told CNN that the policy puts them in danger.

The aviation police officers are all certified law enforcement officers in the state of Illinois. Many work in suburban police departments or are military veterans.

“Because (aviation police officers) are unarmed, when they encounter an armed individual, they must request assistance from a Chicago police officer. Furthermore, there is a standing order that in the event of an active shooter, (aviation police officers) are to ‘run and hide,’ which is contrary to what police are trained to do,” the proposed ordinance said.

The Chicago Police Department is the primary law enforcement agency at the two airports, and those officers are armed.

“Armed (aviation police officers) could do a better job of ensuring public safety and allow some police officers currently at the airports to be reassigned to provide much-needed assistance in crime-torn neighborhoods in Chicago,” the proposed ordinance said.

While airports throughout the country handle security differently, Chicago’s airports are the only ones in which aviation police officers do not carry guns.

The proposal follows last week’s resignation of Richard Edgeworth, the aviation police chief who received a vote of no confidence from officers last year, claiming morale had plummeted under his command. Edgeworth returned to the city’s fire department.

Matt Brandon, secretary-treasurer of Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the aviation police officers, said he’s optimistic the proposal will be approved.

“Arming the aviation police officers is a matter of public safety and it needs to happen quick,” Brandon said Friday.

The proposal will now be reviewed by the city council’s public safety committee.

The Chicago Aviation Department has maintained the existing security policy works and there is no need to arm the aviation officers.

“The multilevel security approach used at O’Hare and Midway Airports has proven effective in stopping and preventing crime while creating a structure that allows for all our law enforcement officials to collaborate easily and effectively,” department spokesman Owen Kilmer said in a statement.

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