Lawsuit Charges Chicago with Responding more Slowly to 911 Calls from Non-White Neighborhoods

Saturday, November 30, 2013
Chicago police (photo: Evan Vucci, AP)

City residents and civil libertarians want the city of Chicago to improve police and fire response times to 911 calls from minority areas, which experience longer delays than white neighborhoods.


The Central Austin Neighborhood Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed suit two years ago claiming the city violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act by not providing consistent emergency response service to all Chicago neighborhoods. The groups claimed that this problem has persisted for two decades, and they cited a report in the Chicago Sun-Times that bolstered their contention.


The plaintiffs lost their case before a Cook County judge who agreed with city attorneys that the matter was a “nonjusticiable political question” that existed outside the bounds of the court.


So the groups petitioned the Illinois Appellate Court's first district, which reversed (pdf) the judge’s ruling earlier this month.


“The political question doctrine does not divest a court of jurisdiction to address plaintiffs' claim that the city's allocation of resources to respond to 911 calls results in a disparate impact on residents of police districts populated largely by African-Americans and Hispanics, and therefore, the trial court should not have dismissed the complaint for failure to state a judiciable claim,” Justice P. Scott Neville wrote for a three-judge panel.


“Courts have the power to order appropriate relief for the unjustified disparate impact of a city's administrative practices on certain racial and ethnic groups. No constitutional provision immunizes from judicial review the alleged disparate impact of the city's administrative methods for responding to 911 calls on distinct racial groups,” Neville added.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Minorities May Have a Case for 911 Call Bias (by Jeff Gorman, Courthouse News Service)

Central Austin Neighborhood Association and the American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Chicago (Illinois Appellate Court First District) (pdf)



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