Court sides with Austin residents

[Creative Commons/Flickr/vxla]

[Creative Commons/Flickr/vxla]

Two years ago, The New York Times ran a story that confirmed what Ron Reid, a West Side resident fed up with long police response times and unsolved murders had long suspected: his community gets shortchanged when it comes to police protection.

A team of reporters from Chicago unearthed police department deployment data that revealed that some of the city’s tonier, low-crime neighborhoods had more police officers assigned to them than those logging the highest numbers of shootings, murders and armed robberies. Levels of police protection are often drawn along racial lines. And white neighborhoods tend to fare better than black and Latino ones.

Roseland and West Pullman, for example, had three times as much violent crime as the gentrified Near West Side in 2011. Yet, fewer police officers were assigned to the high-crime district on the Far South Side that year.

The Central Austin Neighborhood Association, a community group that Reid helped organize, decided to file a lawsuit asking the courts to force the hand of city officials to send more officers to high-crime neighborhoods like his. The case was initially shot down in the circuit courts. But on Thursday, an appellate court ruling breathed new life into the lawsuit.

The court reinstated a lawsuit that challenged the city’s history of racially inequitable police deployment. A year ago the Circuit Court sided with the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the issues involved are “political” and should be addressed by the legislative and executive branches, not the courts.

Reid sees as the lawsuit as the only way he’s going to start getting his 911 calls answered.

“If we dial police, we just want them to come,” Reid said. “That’s something that everyone in Chicago should have.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed when he was running for the job. “We cannot beat crime without more officers on the beat,” he told reporters, pledging to assign 1,000 more beat patrols to parts of the city known for violence.  As of last year, reporter Dan Mihalopoulos, who initially uncovered the deployment information, found that little had changed.

Today, the number of permanently assigned police officers in the Austin District is down by 33 percent compared with 2011, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Reid and his neighbors. The Englewood District experienced a similar decline, while staffing in predominantly white districts either held fairly steady or even increased.

“All we’re asking for is reasonable response times,” Reid added. “We’re fighting for what other communities have by default.”

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