The Central Austin Neighborhood Association has reached a settlement with the city of Chicago aimed at addressing the chronic disparity in police response times to calls from white neighborhoods compared to primarily Black and Brown neighborhoods.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit first filed in October 2011 by CANA that challenged longstanding racial disparities. Data released during the case revealed that neighborhoods of color often had no police to dispatch in response to a 911 call reporting a violent offense, while white neighborhoods had ample officers to respond even in non-emergency situations.

“After a decade-long journey to bring equity and fairness to police deployment, this settlement is a small but important step forward,” Ron Reid, one of the CANA members who filed the lawsuit a decade ago with his wife Serethea, said in a statement. “The test will be whether CPD actually follows through and better serves neighborhoods such as ours.”

Serethea Reid said, “For us and for our neighbors, nothing really has changed about police response in Austin. CPD has the technology to track when police actually respond to a call for help. They must track every call and every response – and use that data to ensure that every neighborhood gets service based on need, not race.”

Under the agreement in the 10-year-old case, the city promised to:

  • Improve the collection of data about 911 calls, including the police response time for each call. Currently, the city says it is able to produce data for only around 60% of all calls; they pledge to use their best efforts to improve that percentage to 80% within three years;
  • Publish data about police response times on a district-by-district basis each month. This reporting will begin within three months of approval of the agreement; and
  • Incorporate the principle of equitable police response to calls for service into any new staffing plan developed under the federal consent decree guiding systemic reform of CPD.

The uneven deployment of police officers in Chicago and the result that neighborhoods of color regularly experience longer delays in response to 911 calls than white neighborhoods has been a longstanding problem for the city. Nearly every police superintendent has promised, but failed, to address this serious racial and public health disparity, the plaintiffs said.

A decade ago, one analysis of police response times in the Town Hall area (which is predominantly white) and Chicago Lawn (with a population that is predominantly people of color) underscored the problem.

Over a period covering 2009 to 2011, CPD was unable to respond to 911 calls in Town Hall on only 17 occasions. But during the same period, CPD was unable to respond to calls in Chicago Lawn on 885 occasions.

“This racial disparity in police responses to calls for service was tolerated for too many years due solely to politics,” Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “The result was that too many neighborhoods like the one represented by CANA were ignored. We hope this settlement is a step in redressing this historic wrong in Chicago.”

Lawyers for the ACLU of Illinois were assisted by Eric Mattson of Sidley Austin in representing CANA in this litigation.