United Airlines: The Role of Officer vs. Police

In light of the recent United Airlines incident, I wondered how this event would affect our view of police. On April 9, Dr. David Dao was on a United Express plane from O’Hare, Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife were seated on the plane in preparation to leave, but the overbooked flight forced a few passengers to get off the plane and switch to a later flight. At random, Dr. Dao was chosen to switch, but after refusing to give his seat for a United Airlines crew member, he was forcefully dragged from his chair. A video recording shows the 69-year-old man with a bloody face being dragged by his arms down the aisle of the plane by the United Express police.

From the abusive encounter, Dr. Dao suffered a broken nose,  the loss of his front teeth as well as a concussion. His injuries were mentioned in a three hour hearing this Thursday as well as a discussion about the men that gave him those injuries. Although in the video it is visible that the men are wearing coats with “police” written across, a Chicago Aviation Commissioner made sure to inform the people that the officers were told to switch the label to “security” but never followed orders.

Regardless of what their title was supposed to be, everyone watched the video with the role of “police” in mind and after watching the events, it is our views regarding “police” that will be changed. Although not to the same extent, this incident with the United Airlines officers will be added to the list of events that put police in a bad light. Although Dr. Dao did not lose his life and the argument between the officers and him did not end like many other cases of police brutality, this encounter will reaffirm the negative perception many already have towards police in general–no matter if they patrol the streets or the airports.

While learning more about the outrage towards United Airlines, I came across an ABC News article titled “Removal of United Passenger Shines Light on Airport Police.” In this article, I was surprised to learn the many similarities between airport officers and everyday police officers in terms of the ambiguities in their roles and lack of proper oversight.

Before April 9th, little was known about the responsibilities of airport police. Apparently, they are not allowed to carry guns and they are not trained as long as those who would eventually become city police officers. However, they do still receive training from the same Police Academy as traditional police departments. And this doesn’t come as too much of a shock to me because just like city police officers have shown to escalate situations unnecessarily, the United Airlines officers have shown to do just the same. As evidenced by their treatment of Dr. Dao, airline officers inserted themselves forcefully and they really had no business even boarding the plane. According to the Aviation Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Security, Jeff Redding, officers should not board the plane “unless there’s an imminent threat.”

Nothing about an overbooked flight screams “imminent” to me.

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