Over 400,000 High-Priority Incidents In Chicago In 2021 Had 'No Police Available To Send', New Data Shows
Authored by Matt Rosenberg via Wirepoints.org,
As crime continues to roil economic and social life in post-George Floyd, post-COVID Chicago, getting policing and criminal justice right are crucial. City officials are failing at that task.
We’re already seen anemic rates of arrest and prosecutions in Chicago, accompanied by finger-pointing between politicians over crime and the court system. And years of no support from city leadership, anti-policing legislation and the damaging rhetoric of the “defund” movement have taken a toll on Chicago police morale and manpower.
All that has spread the police force so thin that, in 2021, one of law enforcement’s most basic functions, responding to high-priority emergency service calls in a timely manner, was regularly beyond their capacity.
New data uncovered by Wirepoints through public records requests to the Chicago Police Department (CPD) reveal that in 2021 there were 406,829 incidents of high-priority emergency service calls for which there were no police available to respond.
That was 52 percent of the 788,000 high-priority 911 service calls dispatched in 2021.
High priority calls include Priority Level 1 incidents, which represent “an imminent threat to life, bodily injury, or major property damage/loss,” and Priority Level 2 incidents when “timely police action…has the potential to affect the outcome of an incident.”
In pre-George Floyd, pre-COVID 2019, there were only 156,016 such instances for which dispatchers had no police available to send – 19 percent of the total number of high priority 911 service calls made that year. We have requested parallel data for 2020.
The 2021 high priority numbers include, among many other calls:
14,955 – assaults in progress.
17,828 – batteries in progress.
16,350 – person with a gun.
5,210 – person with a knife.
12,787 – shots fired (reports from people, not the city’s automated “Shotspotter”)
1,352 – person shot.
887 – person stabbed.
14,265 – domestic battery.
Nor were there police available for 49,686 domestic disturbances or 9,458 mental health disturbances. Or 3,386 dispatches for a robbery that had just occurred. Or the 2,427 dispatches about someone threatening suicide and the 2,951 dispatches stemming from reported violations of a court protection order. (For the full list of service calls, see the CPD’s FOIA response below).
Emergency police dispatches and call backlogs
Chicago police handled about 1.3 million dispatched 911 calls for service each year between 2019 and 2021. The data comes from a dashboard kept by the city’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). OIG numbers come straight from the Office of Emergency Operations and Communications, which runs the city’s 911 center.
About 800,000 of the calls for service each year are high priority (priorities 1 and 2), about 60 percent of the total.
While the number of emergency calls for service has remained consistent, there has been a considerable jump in the number of periods in which 911 dispatchers could find no takers for urgent calls of help needed.
Those periods of backlogged dispatches are known by the somewhat misleading name of radio assignments pending or “RAP”.
RAPs occur and are tracked on a police district-by-district basis (there are 24 separate police districts in Chicago). It’s important to note that a RAP is not one delayed response to one dispatch. Instead, police representatives informed Wirepoints it is “a range of time in which no dispatchable resources are available in the District/dispatch group.”
A RAP is declared over only after all delayed responses to high-priority 911 dispatches have been cleared by police arriving on scene.
The numbers of annual reported RAPs grew from 5,077 in 2019 to 11,721 in 2021, up more than 130 percent.
RAPs are to be avoided if at all possible, according to CPD’s own directive to staff on using its radio communications system. It says field supervisors should repeatedly check all available patrol and special unit personnel on duty to see if they can redeploy to new and high-priority dispatch requests, and that supervisors can deny lunches, personal breaks, and station assignments until the backlog ends.
As the number of RAP periods have grown, so, too, have the volume of high-priority, incident-specific 911 dispatches that weren’t answered in a timely manner. As mentioned above, there were 156,000 high-priority incidents in 2019, but more than 400,000 in 2021.
Waiting for help
High priority dispatches can wait as long as an hour, even two hours, for a response during RAPs.
Last summer, a Chicago 911 dispatcher working the violent 11th Police District on the West Side was captured by Chicago Scanner’s Twitter account in revealing audio of backlogged dispatch call-outs.
Listen to the audio here from Chicago Scanner via crime news website CWB Chicago.
Listening to the audio, Wirepoints could clearly discern details of 36 specific languishing dispatch requests. There were three noise complaints, two burglar alarm calls, four batteries in progress, eight instances of shots fired and seven domestic disturbances.
Also backlogged with no timely response were a theft, a robbery, a stabbing, a domestic battery, a violation of a protection order, a suspicious person, a mental health disturbance, a large crowd disturbance, drag racing, another disturbance, an EMS vehicle needed, and “a citizen waiting for an assist for 102 minutes at Roosevelt and Central Park.”
Of the response lag times of the 36 audible incidents reported, 13 were close to or in excess of two hours; 12 were close to or in excess of an hour; and most of the rest were clustered at 20 to 40 minutes each.
Unfortunately, Wirepoints can’t determine just how long RAPs typically last. In a recent FOIA for 911 backlog details, Wirepoints asked for the average length of backlog periods in recent years. CPD said no such data existed.
Although field supervisors are instructed under a CPD directive to “note in the supervisor’s management log (CPD-11.455) the time the RAP started, efforts made to end the RAP, and the time the RAP ended,” those records are paper only, not electronic, and they are reportedly not retained.
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To many observers in Chicago, the increase in RAPs is one more indication of the need to restore police manpower to previous levels. The count of active sworn officers has fallen to 11,638 in June of this year, down from 13,251 in July of 2019, according to an OIG dashboard.
But Chicago politicians, Cook County judges, prosecutors and state lawmakers will have to make policing a far more attractive proposition than it is today to repair the damaged morale that’s helping drive the ongoing exodus of sworn officers.
CPD 1st FOIA response: Count of Service Calls Occurring During Radio Assignments Pending, 2021
CPD 2nd FOIA response: Count of Service Calls Occurring During Radio Assignments Pending, 2019