West Side group gets its lawsuit seeking police data reinstated

November 17, 2013
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An appellate court has reversed a decision that ruled in favor of the city in a lawsuit filed by the Central Austin Neighborhood Association (CANA) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU).

The lawsuit – now reinstated – alleges that 911 response times for predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods are slower than response times in white communities. That’s because Chicago officials have failed to deploy police equitably across the city’s many diverse neighborhoods, the suit alleges.

Last year, a trial court dismissed the complaint by the two groups saying it was a political – rather than judicial – issue.

The ACLU says the unequal deployment of officers in the city violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, which makes it unlawful for government to provide services in a manner that has a disparate negative effect on any racial group.

The plaintiffs were denied staffing data by the Chicago Police Department on the basis that it would reveal too much information about understaffed areas to criminals.

Last week’s unanimous decision by a three-judge panel means that CANA and ACLU will be able to move ahead with subpoenas for the data, said CANA co-founder Serethea Reid.

“The only way they could stop us is to appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Reid, whose group filed the lawsuit in 2011.

She said she’s excited about the court’s latest decision on the case.

“That’s because it really is a civil rights issue to provide unequal services against a group of people because of their skin color,” she said.

In a statement sent to AustinTalks, the ACLU called the decision a big win for the West Side and all of Chicago’s minority neighborhoods.

The ruling comes at a time when aldermen have been questioning Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s policy of paying existing officers overtime to patrol high-crime areas rather than hiring new officers.

Austin has lost 33 police officer positions since October 2011, according to data obtained by the ACLU.

And citywide, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the number of beat cops as of September 2013 was 6,394, down from 7,000 two years before.

“We look forward to returning to the circuit court and having the city justify its method of police deployment,” Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, said in the statement.

“The residents of all neighborhoods deserve equal services and complete transparency in how officers are assigned.”

The city’s law department responded to AustinTalks with a statement saying, “We will prepare to vigorously litigate the case in the circuit court. We are confident that the courts will not find discrimination based on race or national origin.”

The date for the case’s next hearing has not yet been set.

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