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Cops not distributed equitably across city, ACLU says in lawsuit

 SerethReid resident Austneighborhood plaintiff Lawsuit challenging City's Deployment Police Minority Neighborhoods during news conference ACLU Thursday October 27 2011.

Seretha Reid, resident of Austin neighborhood and plaintiff in Lawsuit challenging City's Deployment of Police to Minority Neighborhoods, during news conference at ACLU, Thursday, October 27, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: November 29, 2011 8:22AM

Chicago is a city of haves and have-nots when it comes to police protection, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois sued in Cook County Circuit Court, saying the city is failing to deploy cops equitably across the city’s neighborhoods.

The number of backlogged 911 calls is unevenly large in neighborhoods with the biggest minority populations, the lawsuit said.

“Disproportionate numbers of delays in 911 calls have a devastating effect on a neighborhood,” said Harvey Grossman, an ACLU attorney.

On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he understands the basis for the lawsuit. But he said he’s sought to add resources to high-crime districts since he took office.

“We’re ahead of where we were on May 15. We’re not done applying our resources — by holding commanders accountable or applying manpower. But it is not just manpower alone.”

Grossman pointed to a Chicago Sun-Times story last year about situations in which there are no resources to respond to 911 calls — known as Radio Assignments Pending.

Districts with the lowest number of RAP events were on the North Side and Northwest Side where violent crime is the lowest, the Sun-Times found.

The Town Hall District, for instance, had 17 RAP events in the first eight months of 2009 and 2010 and about 64,000 911 calls from January 2009 through Oct. 24, 2010. The Chicago Lawn District had about 130,000 911 calls and 885 RAP events over the same periods.

The city provided the 911 figures to the Sun-Times following a Freedom of Information request, but denied a request for the RAP data — which the newspaper obtained from a source.

Grossman also pointed to a recent Chicago News Cooperative story that found that crime-ridden police districts have fewer officers patrolling their streets than much safer areas of the city — even after Emanuel redeployed more than 1,000 officers to patrol jobs from other assignments this year. The information was provided by an unidentified source, the story said.

Grossman said the city has refused to provide the ACLU and news organizations with details about the deployment of officers. The city argues the information could compromise public safety.

But other cities such as San Francisco make that information available, Grossman said.

“We’re trying to bring some sunlight onto the problem,” he said.

At a news conference in the ACLU’s offices on Michigan Avenue, Austin neighborhood resident Ron Reid spoke of his frustration in trying to get the police to respond to his 911 calls.

Reid, who is African-American, said he moved to the Austin neighborhood from Oak Park, partly because his home is only two blocks from the Austin police station.

But Reid said officers rarely respond to his 911 calls about open-air drug markets operating near his home.

His wife, Seretha Reid, said a woman was being beaten outside her home at 1 a.m. a few months ago.

“A woman was calling out for help, screaming for someone to help her,” Reid said.

Reid said she made repeated calls to the police, but an officer didn’t respond until almost 4 a.m. — after the attack was over. The victim was gone when police arrived, she said.

“Because of experiences like this, many of our neighbors simply won’t call the police,” Seretha Reid said.

Grossman said the lawsuit seeks a court judgment saying the city’s method of deploying officers violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

The ACLU is requesting a permanent injunction barring the city from using the current method of deploying officers. The lawsuit also asks the court to order the city to submit a plan on deploying officers in a way that “will provide equal services in response to 911 calls in minority neighborhoods.”

On Thursday, the mayor said he’s sent a majority of the officers he has redeployed to high-crime districts. By the mayor’s count, he has already put 1,019 more police officers on district beats by disbanding specialized units, redeploying officers assigned to desk duty, closing police lockups in four districts and hiring civilian detention aides to replace sworn officers.

The controversial decision to close three police stations in 2012 — Wood, Belmont and Prairie — and consolidate police and detective areas from five to three will free scores of additional officers for street duty, the mayor said.

“We’ve put more officers in those districts where there’s high crime and higher crime. We have applied more resources to the areas that need them, and we’re not done. We constantly take a fresh look, and it’s not static. If it was static, I would have been stuck with the system we had on May 15. I didn’t accept the way police officers were distributed,” the mayor said.

“I’m not done, nor is Garry McCarthy, the superintendent of the police department, or Al Wysinger, the first deputy, in looking to see if we need to put more officers where we have a crime problem. Part of the CompStat strategy and system is you analyze crime trends in every neighborhood and have a system of accountability for the district commander.”

Before resigning to avoid being dumped by Emanuel, former police Supt. Jody Weis drafted a plan to reallocate police resources to higher-crime districts. Emanuel killed it. He argued that shifting officers away from lower-crime districts in his North Side political base to higher-crime South and West Side districts would only divide Chicago.

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