Police agencies that patrol U.S. airports are telling their rank and file not to get involved in carriers’ civil disputes after Chicago officers dragged a United Airlines passenger off a plane, the Wall Street Journal reports. “We know our roles, our responsibilities, and that does not include enforcing an airline policy to replace somebody on a flight so a flight crew can go somewhere,” said Atlanta police Maj. Lane Hagin of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic. United says it will never again seek police assistance for a customer-service issue, and call them only when there is a threat to passengers or crew.
U.S. airports are guarded by a mix of dedicated staff and police drafted in from city forces. The Chicago incident has prompted debate about which is best placed to patrol aviation facilities. The Port Authority Police Department, which patrols New York City’s three major airports tells officers not to insert themselves into disputes unless a passenger has committed a crime, poses a safety risk or is deemed emotionally disturbed. “We’ll intervene as necessary if a law’s being broken,” a Port Authority police spokesman said. ”Absent that, it’s a civil issue—it’s an airline issue.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city is reviewing the future of the Department of Aviation security force. The 300-strong airport unit is made up entirely of city employees. All are sworn police officers but receive less training than regular officers would at a police academy. They don’t carry weapons, and have battled to do so amid heightened concerns over terrorism.