This story is part of Reframing Crime Narratives, a 10-part series about public safety by The TRiiBE to create space for community conversation about crime in Chicago

The series is supported in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Envisioning Justice grant by Illinois Humanities.

Calling 911 has always been presented as the primary option for both emergent and non-emergent situations. For Black people, however, dialing the three-digit number for help hasn’t always worked out in their favor. As a result, Black people often have to weigh those conflicting realities when deciding whether to call 911. 

The TRiiBE put out a call on social media, asking Black and brown residents in Chicago about their experiences with 911 dispatch. Responses varied. Some said their experiences weren’t positive; the emergency dispatchers seemed nonchalant about their issue, or there was a lack of urgency or follow-up related to their calls. One person shared a positive experience with police and first responders. She called it an anomaly. 

“I respect the fact that others have different experiences than I do. I think it’s an anomaly for Black people to be treated with respect. So, I was fortunate,” Donna Hammond, a Chatham resident said. 

Others said they hesitate to call 911 during emergencies because they feel the police are unpredictable. They’re unsure what will happen when the police arrive: will officers make the situation better or worse? Chicagoans saw the worst unfold in cases such as 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, who was shot and killed by ex-Chicago police officer Robert Rialmo in 2015. LeGrier was experiencing a mental health crisis and called 911 for help; his downstairs neighbor Bettie Jones was killed by the police gunfire, too. 

“I used to run a bar years ago and there was a fight once. I was like, ‘I will not call 911.’ Someone else did, but I was like, ‘I will not,’” Humboldt Park resident Claire Warne told The TRiiBE. “It’s just, like, one of those things where I don’t know what direction it’s gonna go in, especially if it’s because of a violent situation or something along those lines. That’s too risky for me, and it’s something that I don’t feel comfortable doing.”

Of the responses we received from seven residents, The TRiiBE spoke with three for this story. We also spoke with Collaborative for Community Wellness organizer Arturo Carrillo, who also works as deputy director of health and violence prevention at the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. He weighed in on each resident’s 911 experience. 

Carrillo highlighted how he envisions policing alternatives like Treatment Not Trauma, once fully implemented, offering city residents non-police responses for behavioral or mental health crises, grief counseling when a loved one dies, and other support for community members.

“In our communities, we know that having the police present is not helpful in any way; it exacerbates, unfortunately, the trauma and the crisis that people are dealing with,” Carrillo said. 

In Chicago, 911 calls cover a wide range of reasons, including reporting incidents of shootings, assault, theft, burglaries, mental health crises, and non-emergent needs. However, an analysis of more than one million 911 calls in Chicago from 2022 found that more than half involved mental or physical health issues, traffic or parking issues, car accidents, abandoned cars, loud music/noise, or fireworks, according to a written release from Communities United

In addition, just over 2% of those calls were for gunshots fired or rape/sexual assault. 

Policing remains a top concern for Chicago residents, organizers and political leaders. Some argue that safety comes from increased police patrols and hi-tech gunshot detection tools like ShotSpotter. In 2024, the Chicago Police Department’s budget is nearly $2 billion. Additionally, Chicago has more sworn officers per capita than New York, Los Angeles and Houston.

Others argue that a holistic approach to crime reduction and violence prevention will improve community safety. The CPD has a homicide clearance rate of 50% and has spent $295 million between 2019 and 2022 on police misconduct lawsuits. 

Although homicides and shootings decreased by 12% and 14% respectively in 2023 and are showing similar downward trends in 2024, Chicago continues to grapple with gun violence. As of June 13, there have been 218 homicides year-to-date, a decrease from 260 homicides year-to-date in 2023. Additionally, there have been 894 shootings year-to-date, compared to 990 shootings year-to-date in 2023. 

Here is a look at the 911 experiences of Humboldt Park resident Claire Warne, Chatham resident Donna Hammond and Andersonville business owner Renauda Riddle, as told to TRiiBE multimedia reporter Tonia Hill.

Claire Warne, Humboldt Park resident

Warne was born and raised in the Uptown on the North Side, and currently lives in Humboldt Park on the West Side. Since 2022, she said, her Kia Sportage has been stolen and vandalized six times. 

After each theft, for insurance purposes, she had to call 911 and travel to the corresponding Chicago Police Department precinct to report the thefts and obtain a police report. Her car was last stolen during the 2023 holiday season.

The first time my car was stolen was in September 2022. I had it for about a year and a half before it was stolen.

The first time it was stolen, I was at the Regal Cinemas in Logan Square around 11:30 p.m., and my car wasn’t where I parked it. There is a different car in its place. As I’m looking, there’s, like, glass on the ground. I was with someone at the time. I’ve never had my car stolen. I don’t know what to do, but I feel like I should call 911. So I did. I was on hold for probably 25 minutes. At that time, I didn’t know what else to do. This has never happened to me. 

Now, fast forward a year and a half later [to 2023]. I’m a pro at this. 

When I spoke to a [911] dispatcher, they said someone would be coming out. I waited until about 1:30 in the morning, and no one came out. So, at that point, I just left the parking lot. When I called again, they said “we don’t send people out for that. You have to come in and file a police report.” So I went into the [police] station, and I felt like I was the one that did something wrong. I went to the station off of California and Milwaukee (14th District).

Getting your car stolen is horrible. Then, about three months later, it was vandalized. They tried to steal it, but they probably got spooked. That happened in Humboldt Park. So again, I called to file a police report. It felt like nobody cared. You can’t file a police report over the phone. You have to go in person.

Claire Warne, currently a resident of Humboldt Park, is sorting through all the paperwork related to the multiple times her car was stolen.
Claire Warne, currently a resident of Humboldt Park, is sorting through all the paperwork related to the multiple times her car was stolen. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Last August [2022], I was out eating with a friend in Lakeview. So it’s summer, and people are sitting outside of the restaurants. My car was parked across the street from, like, a bar or something. It was like 8:00 p.m., and people saw these boys attempting to steal it. 

Someone from the restaurant called 911, and the police showed up. Of course, the first thing that comes to my head is, are they showing up because it’s in Lakeview as opposed to Humboldt Park? I went to the police precinct on Belmont and Western (19th District). 

I remember snapping at one of the officers. They made a comment, like, “oh, this has happened to you so many times.” I said, “this situation isn’t funny. I’m about to be broke because this has happened so many times.” My monthly insurance payment was $62 the first time it was stolen, and now it’s $180. I’ve had to go to the police station five times. I was literally about to have a breakdown and start crying at the police station on Belmont and Western.

I understand they get so many calls daily, some worse than others, but I wish there were some guides to help me understand what to do. I was treated differently each time. I grew up in the age of D.A.R.E., where drugs are bad and the police are good. That message was repeated at church and Sunday School. 

I’ve had conversations with my nieces and nephews about calling 911. I’ve told them that first responders are supposed to be there and be helpful to you, but there is a large chance that that’s not going to be the case.

Commentary from Arturo Carrillo

Carrillo and mental health advocates who have been pushing for the implementation of Treatment Not Trauma envision some of the city’s reopened mental health clinics serving as "living room" space models, an alternative to traditional crisis response. 

Community members can drop in to de-stress in these spaces, with community health workers on hand to help residents navigate tough situations. These living room spaces would be available for walk-in services.

In response to Warne’s experience, Carrillo said:

“Of course, it’s traumatizing to have had that experience multiple times. It can lead to PTSD,” Carrillo added. “What if you had a public mental health center in your neighborhood that you can access when you’re feeling overwhelmed? You can sit in the living room, have a cup of coffee, and there’s a therapist available. Through Treatment Not Trauma, community health workers can accompany people to the police station and stand with community members as they describe a traumatic event to a police officer.”

Donna Hammond, Chatham resident

Hammond is a South Side native. Between 2015 and 2023, she said, she called 911 five times because her husband was having seizures in their home. In November 2023, she called 911 a sixth and final time after he fatally collapsed in their kitchen.

What happened in November 2023 was unexpected. My husband, myself, our grandkids, and one of our sons went downtown to the Disney parade for the weekend. (Reporter’s note: Hammond is referring to the Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Parade, where Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were the grand marshals, on Nov. 18, 2023). We decided to get two hotel rooms, and we hung out there. We had a wonderful time with the kids. 

Fast forward to that Monday, when my husband was sitting in the kitchen and I was working in my office space. I hear pots and pans rattling, and I’m thinking he’s gonna start cooking for Thanksgiving. My granddaughter comes into my office, and she’s 17. I asked her to get me a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She went into the kitchen and found my husband, who’d collapsed on the floor.

My granddaughter came back to my office and told me he was on the floor. She wasn’t sure if he had fallen or not. He was not moving. I did not expect when I walked into the kitchen that I was going to find my husband dead. I knew he was gone. I immediately called 911. 

The paramedics came within four minutes because I live right around the corner from the fire department. When they came in, there were a couple of police officers with them. I had to give the paramedics a listing of his medications and their dosages. The paramedics immediately began working on my husband, and one of the things that they did that I appreciated was they closed us off from being able to see them working on him. They protected us from that. They shielded us from that.

The police officer is kind of guarding the kitchen. They treated it like a crime scene because they didn’t know what had happened. So we were all sitting in the living room while all this was happening. I could not sit and watch them working on my husband, doing chest compressions and all that to get him to breathe again.

It was just mayhem for my family. I said, “I don’t know why they keep doing this. He’s gone.” I was waiting for them to say he’s gone.

The paramedics were so intuitive. They connected with us, and they constantly gave us updates, and explained to me what they did in detail. My son is standing there next to me, holding my hand. The paramedic told us unfortunately, he didn’t make it. He passed away. My son, who’s 43, dropped to the floor. I know my son was thinking back to the weekend we’d just had with his dad and had a great time. The paramedic reached down to my son and rocked him, and said, “brother, it’s going to be okay.” 

My son was inconsolable; it just broke his heart. So one of the paramedics was like, “Man, I understand. I know this is very painful. I’m so sorry for your loss.” He stood there with him as I was holding him. Both of us were talking to him and calming him.

Donna Hammond, a South Side resident, shows photos from the obituary of her late husband and speaks on her experience with calling 911. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®
Donna Hammond, a South Side resident, shows photos from the obituary of her late husband and speaks on her experience with calling 911. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Afterward, the paramedic explained what would happen next. The coroner’s office would be doing an investigation. They had to come in, take some pictures, and do a report. Once they do their report, a detective will come in, and he said it’s up to that detective to determine whether my husband would be turned over to me for the funeral home or whether they’re going to ask for an autopsy. 

I’m telling you my experience with first responders because it couldn’t have been any better than it was. The Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department treated us well. 

Our community is fearful because of the way Blacks in the diaspora have been treated. The root of the issue in this nation that will never go away is white supremacy. No matter what Black people, or people of color, do or how we respond, there’s always going to be a bad apple in the bunch.  

I was treated like a person. It’s sad that so many people have been mistreated and misused, and you have more of them than those who have not, and that’s the sad part.

Commentary from Arturo Carrillo

A part of the Treatment Not Trauma plan includes investing in a community care worker corps, which would include additional staffers and be supported by city-run mental health centers. These workers would work alongside the mental health crisis call line and non-police crisis response teams, and would be composed of community residents and paraprofessionals who live in the areas near each mental health center. Carrilo added that they would undergo training but wouldn’t be required to have degrees in social work or psychology. 

The city’s already-existing CARE 911 (Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement) program has two types of models: the co-responder model, which includes a police officer, paramedic and mental health professional; and a non-police or alternate model, which includes a paramedic and mental health professional.

In response to Hammond’s experience, Carrillo said:

“The Community Care Worker Corps could also respond to situations like this. Currently, the CARE 911 response teams listen to the police scanner and fire scanners. They can deploy themselves in situations like this and provide triage support for people that need assistance,” he added. “In this space we're envisioning, residents can visit their local community mental health center and find resources like grief counseling.”

Renauda Riddle, Andersonville business owner

Riddle is the co-owner of Nobody’s Darling, a Black women-owned and queer-friendly bar in Andersonville on the North Side. The bar opened in September 2021 and is the city’s second Black-owned LGBTQ+ bar. South Shore’s Jeffery Pub is the oldest Black-owned gay bar in Chicago. 

When Nobody’s Darling opened in 2021, we introduced ourselves to our local Chamber of Commerce, our alderman Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), and the police in the area. They’ve reached out to us and given us their cards in case anything happens or we have to call 911. 

There are a lot of people living with mental health issues all over the city and in Andersonville. So we have had multiple occasions where we needed to call the police. When we call, we make sure to tell the police, “hey, this person has mental health issues, so don’t come in guns blazing with a whole bunch of patrol cars and try to talk to this individual calmly.”

Renauda Riddle, standing outside of Nobody’s Darling, the co-owner of the bar North Side of Chicago in Andersonville. This space is a black women-owned and queer-friendly bar. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®
Renauda Riddle, standing outside of Nobody’s Darling, the co-owner of the bar North Side of Chicago in Andersonville. This space is a black women-owned and queer-friendly bar. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

As long as we communicate and state what it is before the police get there, they respond well. We’re very conscious of when we call the police. We try our best to deal with the situation. 

If we’re not able to deal with the situation and it’s out of our hands, then we do call the police and give them a description of what’s going on. 

In January 2024, we had an incident where our staff resolved an issue without calling the police. Some guy came in about six o’clock in the evening. He was talking to a bartender and moved over to our new expanded space. He just sat down and pulled his pants down. 

The police should have been called, but our bartender just talked to him and said, “you have to leave.” He was exhibiting signs of mental health issues. The bartender handled it well, and they walked them out of the bar. This happened right before our security person started their shift. 

 Our staff didn’t feel the need to call the police. They didn’t feel that there was a severe threat to their life or anything, and it was slow enough at the bar that they were able to defuse the situation and have the guy leave the bar. The bartender later saw the man walking toward the train station.

As a person of color, you do tend to hesitate to call the police, unless they’re absolutely needed. We’ve seen it so many times where we call the police, and then they react in a way that doesn’t defuse the situation, or maybe they come in there with the guns drawn, and they’re shooting at the wrong person. You see that in the news constantly. So, as Black people, we just automatically have biases. Some studies show that even Black police officers have biases toward other Black people. 

So that’s why we ensure that we need police assistance before we call. We haven’t had any situation where the police responded in a way that was too excessive. They have always been conscious of how they respond to situations at our bar. I’m sure that’s partly because we’ve communicated with them and told them the situation.

Commentary from Arturo Carrillo 

Carrillo explained that continued police response to mental health crises can lead to further traumatization. Fully funded mental health clinics and a 911 alternate response are key to ensuring that city residents receive wraparound support without additional traumatization.

In response to Riddle’s experience, Carrillo said:

“Our proposal calls for an alternative for crisis response. One of the things that we learned from other municipalities, for example, is that if you're in Austin, Texas, and you call 911, you're given three options. You can get assistance from the police, fire department, and mental health teams. Unlike what we have here in Chicago, you can say, ‘I’d like mental health support for this person,’ and that involves crisis response without police,” he added. “If we create spaces like living rooms, 23-hour centers, and de-escalation spaces, we can get people the psychiatric support they need without them necessarily being institutionalized. If we create those spaces, we could also deter people from being hospitalized when they are having a mental health crisis by wrapping those individuals with services and giving them the support they need, not just in the moment of crisis.”

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.