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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

The City Is Supposed To Publicize Police Response Times To 911 Calls — But It’s Weeks Past Court-Mandated Deadline

The city agreed to release the data to settle a lawsuit from the ACLU and Central Austin Neighborhood Association about police failing to respond to 911 calls in Black neighborhoods on the West Side.

Chicago Police respond to gunfire in the 5100 West block of Madison Street in the Austin neighborhood on Nov. 12, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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AUSTIN — The city is not complying with a legal agreement meant to ensure Chicago Police respond to 911 emergency calls in Black neighborhoods with the same urgency as they do in affluent white areas.

The city settled a decade-long legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Central Austin Neighborhood Association in November. City leaders agreed to start posting neighborhood-level data on how long it takes police to respond to emergency calls in an effort to hold police accountable for disparities in 911 response times.

The legal settlement required the city to publish the information within three months, which would have been February. More than a month past the deadline, city officials said they don’t have a timeline for when they will produce the public records.

“I absolutely question their leadership. It’s a failure of management,” said Ron Reid, co-founder of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association. “I’m deeply disappointed. I took them at their word that this was a good-faith effort. … It’s truly disturbing.”

Now, the neighborhood group may push for the courts to intervene and force the city to produce the information.

“The whole process of deployment should be managed by a judge. If they refuse to do this, we expect a judge to step in,” Reid said. “If they fail to live up to their word, we’ll have to go to plan B.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A Chicago Police car sits with its lights on in the 300 North block of Central Avenue in the Austin neighborhood on Nov. 12, 2021.

The neighborhood group sued the city in 2011 after police routinely failed to respond to 911 calls reporting assaults, robberies, break-ins, shootings and open-air drug markets, Reid said.

“We’ve had a number of incidents over the years where they took their time to show up or didn’t show up at all,” Reid said. “The biggest issue is the drug corners. We call on a regular basis and they don’t show up.”

Reid lives around the corner from the 15th District police station on Madison Street, but he said officers were slow to respond when a man broke through a metal fence outside Reid’s home and attempted to break in through the front door. Several times when he and his neighbors reported an open-air drug market so crowded it blocked traffic along his street, officers either never responded or arrived after an extended wait and then “rolled on by” in their squad cars without intervening, Reid said.

Even though police are seemingly ever-present on the West Side, most residents assume if they need help and call the police, the cops probably will not show, Reid said. Worse, many West Siders don’t bother to call the police even when they’re in life-threatening danger.

“We’ve had our block sprayed by automatic weapons fire. … Something like that you expect a response,” Reid said. “Our biggest issue is they seem to have no interest in solving these problems.”

Areas where residents think police are most absent during life-threatening emergencies are also Chicago’s most overpoliced neighborhoods.

A Block Club analysis of 2020 police data showed officers disproportionately pull over drivers in Black neighborhoods, especially Austin, Garfield Park and Englewood. Those stops rarely result in drug or gun seizures, or even traffic citations.

People in those areas are also more likely to get parking tickets than in white neighborhoods, an analysis using ProPublica data showed.

“These communities were being overpoliced in one way … and really underserved in another,” said Ed Yohnka, spokesperson for the Illinois ACLU.

The city already can document and publish data on 60 percent of emergency calls, according to the settlement, but nothing has been released. The agreement also requires the city to increase its capacity to publish 80 percent of that data within three years.

“This is the data they said they have now. They said they could do this,” Yohnka said. “They promised to do this bare minimum and they haven’t been able to do this. They should get this data up today.”

Chicago Police has failed to meet several legally binding deadlines, including for 70 percent of the first-year reforms outlined in the consent decree ordered by a federal judge. The consent decree was put in place following a federal investigation sparked by the 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald that found Chicago Police perpetrated extensive civil rights violations, excessive force and abuse.

The city has not explained why the data has not yet been shared with the ACLU, the neighborhood group or the public, Yohnka said.

“This is a pattern with this mayor,” Yohnka said. “They’ve missed this deadline and based on our interactions with the city, no one seems to be responsible for this. What this portends is a larger inability to meet any promise.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Mayor Lori Lightfoot stands next to CPD Supt. David Brown at a press conference on public safety at Garfield Park Field House on Dec. 20, 2021.

City officials also would not specify when the data would be available.

“The Mayor’s Office of Public Safety is working closely with OEMC and CPD to publish this data in the coming months,” mayoral press secretary Cesar Rodriguez said in a statement.

Chicago Police officials declined to answer questions on why the data has not yet been posted, and deferred to the statement from Mayor’s Office.

The ACLU can push the courts to order the city to turn over the data, said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former police sergeant and chair of City Council’s public safety committee. City Council also can pass a resolution calling on “the [Police] Superintendent … to appear before the committee to determine whether or not they are following through,” Taliaferro said.

Delayed police responses to 911 calls in Austin is a serious concern and the department should proactively share relevant data, Taliaferro said. But the issue may be caused by the high volume of emergency calls on the West Side and staffing shortages, he said.

“Police are not going to be able to respond to many of our calls as quickly as we need,” Taliaferro said. “I’m very concerned about our staffing levels in our district that makes it impossible to respond in a timely fashion.”

The Central Austin Neighborhood Association battled for the information to ensure their neighborhood had the same access to public safety and emergency resources as wealthier, whiter neighborhoods, Reid said.

“The reason we started this was to do more to clean up our neighborhood and try to make things safer,” Reid said. “They say they want to reduce crime, but all the simple things they refuse to do. This is a very deadly form of discrimination.”

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