On June 8, the number of shooting victims in the city surpassed 1,000, according to data collected and analyzed by the Chicago Tribune. The city reached the tragic milestone a week earlier than it did last year.
Austin, in particular, accounted for 81 of the victims, which is a slight decrease from the pace set in 2014, when there were 209 gun-related injuries counted over the course of the year.
But while the pace of gun-related injuries increases at a fatally fast clip, police response times don’t seem to have quickened apace and a lawsuit filed four years ago to deal with this problem continues to slowly wind through the Cook County court system.
At issue in the lawsuit is what the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) and the Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA) claim are inequities in police deployment strategies, which result in areas that have a predominately minority population receiving emergency service responses slower than majority white areas.
Data posted by the ACLU show the average dispatch time for a Priority 1 emergency call in September 2013 to Austin — which has only a 1.6 percent white population — was 4 minutes and 29 seconds; that’s nearly twice as long as the response time to the Near North area — which is 75.5 percent white — of 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
A Priority 1 emergency call includes 911 calls made about an imminent threat to life, bodily injury, or major property damage or loss.
“When you run the numbers, the statistics, the data across all of the Chicago Police Districts, the numbers should be the same,” said CANA founder Serethea Reid.
The ACLU and CANA filed the lawsuit after Reid said she exhausted every other option — including submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, meetings with aldermen and attending Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meetings — to get the city to open up about its police deployment strategies.
The goal is to get the city to re-evaluate its deployment strategies to ensure better and quicker service in minority neighborhoods.
“We would like to see that the police deployment happen in a thoughtful, structured, open way that’s based on the needs of communities throughout the city of Chicago,” said ACLU senior attorney Karen Sheley.
“And one measure of that, that we think is key, is that when people are facing true emergency situations, they don’t face a delayed response based on the neighborhood they live in,” she said.
It was just over a year ago that a Cook County Circuit Court judge ordered the city to hand over data requested by the ACLU and CANA, and it’s been slow going.
“We’re in the process of conducting discovery,” Sheley said. “It’s a negotiated process. We’ve been before the court about it, and we’re continuing to receive documents from the city.”
Sheley could not comment on the types of documents they are reviewing because of a court order, but she said they will continue the process “until we get everything we need to try (the case).”
The case almost didn’t get to this point. In 2012, a judge granted the city’s motion to dismiss on the grounds the case was based on a political question, rather than a civil rights question.
An appellate court overturned that decision in late 2013 and sent the case back to the circuit court.
“I’ve had to learn a lot of patience. This has been an exercise in patience,” Reid said of the drawn-out process.
She remains hopeful that some good will come out of it all.
“I think that change is taking place and continuing to go forward,” Reid said. “I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
In a move separate from the ACLU/CANA lawsuit, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) has introduced a bill that “urges” the Office of Inspector General to conduct a performance audit of emergency response times.
Ford said he introduced the bill after his office had been contacted by numerous residents in his West Side legislative district with complaints of slow police response times.
Although the bill would be a non-binding resolution, Ford said he thinks “this is a productive measure, and it will help the city of Chicago with their duties.”
“I think that if we can deal with the response time, I think that it will deter crime more because people will know the police will be there immediately,” Ford said.
The Office of the Inspector General did not comment directly on whether it would comply with Ford’s request but did issue an emailed statement that read: “We appreciate Rep. Ford’s recognition of the critical role OIG plays in overseeing Chicago’s public safety departments through audits and program reviews, including the important issue of public safety response times.”
Even though Ford’s bill would have no bearing on the pending ACLU/CANA lawsuit, Sheley said, “it would be another way to get at the same problem, which is a concern that there are different response times to emergency 911 calls throughout the city.
“We think these are questions that should be part of the public debate and that it’s a real concern for people all over the city,” he said.
Robert Felton contributed to this article.