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Chicago Court Rules Police Misconduct Records Must Be Made Publicly Available

from the it's-called-oversight,-and-if-the-cops-won't-do-it,-the-public-will dept

The insularity of law enforcement -- the secrecy and opacity that allows misbehaving officers to escape being held responsible for their actions -- has been partially stripped away in Chicago. The city's appellate court has delivered a decision that puts police misconduct records into the hands of the public.

Citizen complaints about Chicago police misconduct and the related investigative files are public records and must be turned over by the city, an Illinois appeals court ruled this week.

A three-judge panel of the state Appellate Court in Chicago rejected the city's claim that such files are exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The fact that investigative files are now public records is a big win for public oversight. Internal investigation documents have often been withheld by law enforcement agencies, many of whom seem completely uninterested in opening up their departments to additional scrutiny. Additionally, the city's appellate court has severely limited the use of existing exemptions to deny requests for police misconduct files.
City lawyers argued such records were covered by an exemption in the state's Freedom of Information law for "preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated."

The judges wrote that exemption only applies to "opinions that public officials form while creating government policy. It does not protect factual material or final agency decisions."
There's still a bit of a loophole left for the Chicago PD to exploit, however.
If a complaint results in disciplinary charges against an officer, records from that process may still be kept secret, the appellate court noted.
From what information is out there, it's unclear whether this exception applies to only documents directly related to the disciplinary process or whether it exempts everything related to the case from public records. In either case (though certainly more damaging to oversight in the latter), this exemption gives back a little opacity to misbehaving cops.

On the plus side, this new ruling allows for easier tracking of Chicago police misconduct.
The appeals court also found that "RL" files are open to the public. Those files identify police officers who have accumulated the most misconduct complaints. At issue were two RL files that named officers with the most complaints between 2001-2006 and 2002-2008.
This transparency is something the city of Chicago sorely needs.
A study by University of Chicago professor Craig Futterman found that just 19 of 10,149 complaints accusing CPD officers of excessive force, illegal searches, racial abuse, sexual abuse, and false arrests led to a police suspension of a week or more. In more than 85 percent of internal investigations of complaints, the accused officer was never even interviewed.
If the Chicago PD decides to return to business as usual in terms of responding to misconduct complaints, it will no longer be able to hide its inactivity behind expansive FOI exceptions. And if officers realize they're creating easily accessible public records every time someone files a complaint, they're bound to exercise a bit more discretion while on-duty.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 8:05pm

    Just too good to pass up...

    And of course should any of them complain, just respond with 'If you've done nothing wrong, then obviously you've got nothing to hide. Since all the officers are law abiding people who would never abuse their positions and authority, they should have no trouble with this data being public.'

    Live by the sword, die by the sword.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 8:30pm

    While I think oversight is a good thing you must remember that police are responsible for ensuring that those who break the law are punished. Someone who gets a traffic ticket or gets caught committing a crime may get upset enough to file a false claim against the cop. Those officers who try to do their jobs the most by putting real criminals away may also get the most complaints.

     

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      DogBreath, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      While I think oversight is a good thing you must remember that police are responsible for ensuring that those who break the law are punished.

      Including themselves.


      Someone who gets a traffic ticket or gets caught committing a crime may get upset enough to file a false claim against the cop.

      And releasing those misconduct records showing how the investigation exonerated them will show that the system works.


      Those officers who try to do their jobs the most by putting real criminals away may also get the most complaints.

      See answer above.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:51am

        Re: Re:

        "And releasing those misconduct records showing how the investigation exonerated them will show that the system works."

        This point can't be overstated. Right now, a large percentage of people simply don't believe that investigations into police misconduct are done in good faith, so it means nothing when they're declared as exonerated.

        If the investigation details were available (assuming the investigations are actually done in good faith) it would be a big step forward in beginning to earn the trust of the public. It would also be nothing but good for the cops were falsely accused.

         

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      •  
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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2014 @ 8:25pm

        Re: Re:

        Agreed

         

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      Michael, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 9:56am

      Re:

      police are responsible for ensuring that those who break the law are punished

      No they aren't. That is the responsibility of the courts and penal system. If they police are dishing out punishment, they should be held accountable.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 10:09am

        Re: Re:

        I know but the point is that a cop has a say in whether someone gets punished or not.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 10:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The cop should have zero say in whether someone is punished or not. The cops job is to bring people suspected of a crime to court, present the evidence related to the crime, and that's it. Done. The court takes it from there.

           

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 8:42pm

    Long Time

    It will take them a long time to print out all those electronic documents, so they can scan them into PDF's for release, after which they will shred all the printed documents, until one is noticed missing, whereby they will reprint the document, rescan it and then re-shred the paper copy.

     

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    Zem, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 8:42pm

    On a lighter note, looking forwards to

    " on the 15th of June, sgt Aria, while conducting the police band, accidentally led the brass section into a b-flat-minor instead of a major. The top brass found this misconduct, while of a minor nature, a major problem, and promptly made the outcome public. The notice was later removed as the police band issue a DCMA take down on the unauthorized comment of their artistic performance. "

     

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    zip, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 9:15pm

    QR code database

    The next step would be to require all cops to wear a QR or bar code on their uniforms, along with the city starting a computerized police misconduct database, allowing people to use their cellphone to look up a cop's record in one or two clicks. Just like they do to us.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 9:19pm

    Is that due process we see? Damn, average_joe's not going to like this.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 10:53pm

    Not sure here but that loophole sounds like it could be large enough to drive a complete freight train through.

    Cop A gets a complaint against him and it is ignored by the internal investigation then his record is up for grabs by the public.

    Cop b gets a complaint and they tell him bad boy, you get 30 minutes off the clock (oh, btw it's lunch time if you didn't know), he's received disciplinary actions and it doesn't have to be revealed.

    Wonder how long it will take them to figure that one out.

     

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    JustMe (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 4:39am

    ^^ 30 minute time out ^^

    I agree with A/C above, this is the first thing I thought of.

     

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    Vidiot (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 5:07am

    Prediction

    Within 90 days, this will show up as a secondary plot line in the Chicago-based TV show "The Good Wife". They're aggressively trying to wrest the "ripped-from-the-headlines" crown from the head of "Law and Order".

    Actually, their depiction of a pair of NSA nerds accidentally tapping lawyers' phones is pretty amusing. And horrifying.

     

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    Geno0wl (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 5:51am

    If a complaint results in disciplinary charges against an officer, records from that process may still be kept secret, the appellate court noted.

    So basically this ruling has no teeth then. We will be able to read all the bullshit complaints("The officer wouldn't let me go with a warning!") but any REAL major abuse will just be hidden still. If anything this should be the exact opposite. Keep the stupid records of idiots who complain about them not fining their neighbor for noise and publicly shame the officers who shoot somebody's dog!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 6:04am

    "While I think oversight is a good thing you must remember that police are responsible for ensuring that those who break the law are punished."

    Thats the Job for the court system, not the police.

     

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      DogBreath, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 8:53am

      Re:

      I believe commenter "Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 8:30pm", might be thinking of Judge Dredd in Mega-City One.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    If a complaint results in disciplinary charges against an officer, records from that process may still be kept secret, the appellate court noted.


    So basically nothings changed.

    They only release the unproven accusations made by the public.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Mar 20th, 2014 @ 7:43am

      Re:

      Interesting. So this is a PR win for the police -- they get to point this collection of unproven (or disproven, I assume) accusations and say "see? they're just picking on us! None of these amount to anything!"

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    which means it was'nt default to begin with

    THATS what I, get

     

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