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Chicago Police face stricter reporting rules under settlement of decade-long dispute over inequitable deployment of officers

“This racial disparity in police responses to calls for service was tolerated for too many years due solely to politics,” ACLU Executive Director Colleen K. Connell said in a statement.

Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Police Department faces rigid reporting requirements — and the ACLU of Illinois will get $250,000 in attorney’s fees — under a settlement advanced Monday to resolve a decade-long lawsuit dispute over inequitable police deployment.

The $250,000 settlement was one of five approved by the City Council’s Finance Committee and the only one that was not tied to allegations of police abuse.

But the implications of the additional reporting requirements could be far-reaching when it comes to how Chicago Police officers are deployed in the future.

In 2011, the ACLU joined with the Central Austin Neighborhood Association to file a lawsuit against the city.

It accused CPD of violating the Illinois Civil Rights Act because of “alleged racial and ethnic disparities in the time it takes to respond to 911 calls for emergency services.” These disparities, they argued, were “based on the population of the neighborhood or district served.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine said an “exceptionally voluminous” period of discovery followed the filing, with “enormous amounts of data” on police deployment and emergency response times from CPD and the 911 center and “a significant number of depositions” of CPD and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications personnel.

In late 2016, both sides agreed to halt discovery and explore a settlement. In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report on CPD triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. A consent decree outlining the terms of federal oversight over the Chicago Police Department was drawn up and finalized.

If the ACLU case had proceeded to trial, Levine said the plaintiffs could have demanded $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees.

Instead, the settlement approved Monday calls for $250,000 along with reporting requirements that go beyond those imposed by the consent decree. They include:

  • Setting a benchmark goal for providing reports on responses to 911 calls, and achieving a 70 percent reporting rate in one year and 80 percent within three years. Currently, the city is “only able to produce data for 60 percent of all calls,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said.
  • Consideration of equity in response times while formulating the new CPD staffing plan.
  • Electronic publication of certain data about calls for service.

“This racial disparity in police responses to calls for service was tolerated for too many years due solely to politics,” ACLU Executive Director Colleen K. Connell was quoted as saying in a statement.

“The result was that too many neighborhoods like the one represented by CANA were ignored,” she said, “We hoped this settlement is a step in redressing this historic wrong in Chicago.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics, said he agreed to the settlement “reluctantly” because there is “more to” disparate response times than race.

“In one of my districts, 50 percent of the beats had zero coverage because all the officers normally assigned to those beats were pulled to be part of various citywide teams” created by police Superintendent David Brown, Lopez told the Sun-Times.

“I’m reluctant to attribute racist reasons for why there are disparities. It’s more complex than that,” he said. “If we blame everything on race, we won’t get to the heart of the issue: Citywide teams that pull officers from local districts so they can roam the city waiting for a call. We need policies that keep officers in districts like mine with a high volume of 911 calls.”

Under questioning from indicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), Levine said the new reporting requirements do not “conflict” with the consent decree, but rather create a “secondary layer of reporting in conjunction with” the decree.

“I would characterize it as requiring a couple more explicit data points,” Levine said.

The deputy corporation counsel for public safety, Tyeesha Dixon, noted that the consent decree already requires CPD to “undergo a pretty fulsome workforce study and analysis. This settlement would just require that CPD consider racial and ethnic disparities in doing that work.”

Thompson demanded to know what the penalty would be if the city fails to comply with the more rigid reporting requirements.

“I don’t want us to be in a position where the ACLU runs back into federal court, gets attorneys’ fees and we’re paying significant fines going forward,” Thompson said.

Levine countered, “It wouldn’t be that dramatic … Things would proceed in a measured fashion with an opportunity to cure.”

Still, Thompson said, “This one bothers me.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in August that Brown was laying the groundwork to confront the politically volatile issue of redeploying officers to neighborhoods and districts where calls for service are the highest — but in a politically timid way that will take years to accomplish.

During a series of closed-door briefings, Chief of Operations Brian McDermott and First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter told City Council members that high-crime districts would get more manpower as rookies graduate from the academy and complete their 18-month probationary periods.

It would take about two years to get South and West Side police districts — where shootings and drug dealing are worst — the levels of manpower they need.

Sources said a model designed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab called for a more radical approach.

In a recently completed pro-bono study of police manpower, the U. of C. created a formula that includes calls for service, total violent crime in the area, population size and attrition through retiring officers.

The model called for reassigning veterans and rookies immediately, based on those and other factors. It concluded CPD has the manpower now to staff high-crime districts at proper levels, even after a recent wave of retirements.

“We know that the uneven deployment of police officers in Chicago – and the result that neighborhoods of color consistently experience longer delays in response to 911 calls than white neighborhoods – has been an historic issue in the city,” Yohnka said.

“Unfortunately, nearly every police superintendent has promised but failed to address this serious racial and public health disparity,” he said.