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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Case Against Chicago Alleging Unequal Police Services to Minority Neighborhoods Moves Forward

In 2011, the Illinois ACLU and the Central Austin Neighborhood Association sued the City of Chicago, claiming violations of the Illinois Civil Rights Act, which makes it unlawful for the government to provide services in a manner that has a disparate negative effect on any racial group. Plaintiffs claim that City officials have failed to deploy police in a fair and equal manner across the City’s many diverse neighborhoods, resulting in disproportionate numbers of delayed police responses to neighborhoods with higher minority populations. Specifically, they claim that people in neighborhoods populated mostly by African-Americans and Hispanics wait longer, on average, than people in mostly white neighborhoods for police to arrive in response to 911 calls. 

Cook County Circuit Judge Neil Cohen dismissed the case last year, calling it "well-intentioned and noble" but agreeing with the City that it was not the role of the courts to tell the City how to allocate police officers.  But recently, an Illinois Appellate Court overturned the trial court, and allowed the case to proceed. Central Austin Neighborhood Ass’n v. Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ill. v. City of Chicago, 2013 IL App (1st) 123041 (Nov. 13, 2013).

The Appellate Court determined that while the City clearly has primary responsibility for deciding how to deploy police officers in response to 911 calls, it is not immune from judicial review. In resolving the issue of whether the case presented a nonjusticiable political question, the Court applied the six factors set forth in the United States Supreme Court decision in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), finding:

First, the appellate court held that the Civil Rights Act gives courts the power to declare that any unit of local government has adopted "methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, national origin, or gender" and authorizes courts to grant appropriate relief.

Second, the Act provides sufficient standards for courts to apply to determine whether the City’s policies for deployment of police personnel justify any disparate impact on African-Americans and Hispanics in terms of response times to 911 calls.

Third, the only policy determination at issue here concerns the disparate impact of administrative procedures on African-American and Hispanics, which courts have the competence to decide.

Fourth, a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would not indicate a lack of respect for the City’s home rule powers.

As to the final fifth and sixth factors, the court determined there was no unusual need for unquestioning adherence to the City’s preferred methods for responding to 911 calls or potential for embarrassment from pronouncements by the City and the courts on the issue.

In sum, the appellate court concluded that the judiciary has the power to order appropriate relief for any unjustified disparate impact of the City’s administrative practices on certain racial and ethnic groups. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Post Authored by Liz Barton, Ancel Glink


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