Chicago's New Era Of Transparency Looks Pretty Much Identical To Its Old Era Of Opacity

from the agencies-grandfathered-in-under-city's-'GFY-Act' dept

Mayor Rahm Emanuel ushered in a new age of law enforcement/city transparency recently by opening his mouth and saying words to that effect. This followed the city/law enforcement sitting on the recordings of a highly-controversial shooting by police officers for more than a year.

Maybe Chicago's government will be more open going forward. It certainly isn't applying this new transparency retroactively. The Better Government Association has just filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department for refusing to turn over other recordings of fatal shootings by police officers, which would seem to be in direct opposition of the mayor's statements.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he supports a new policy requiring that videos of fatal shootings by Chicago police be publicly released relatively soon after the incidents.

But the Emanuel administration is stonewalling a Better Government Association request for footage from the past five years, so the BGA is suing the Chicago Police Department – again.

Under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act – the state law known as FOIA that guarantees public access to public records within no more than 10 business days – the BGA asked the police department for copies of records and videos of officer-involved fatal shootings since 2011.
Welcome to Sunshine Week: The Hangover. Sunshine Week -- the yearly, mostly-ironic celebration of government openness and transparency -- wrapped up at the end of last week. FOIA requests briefly spiked to carpet-bombing levels in celebration. Now, everyone gets to participate in the less fun aspects of FOIAing: waiting, appealing, waiting, waiting some more, and possibly lawyering up.

You'd think the Chicago PD would want to get a jump on its new, sunshiny outlook on life. It certainly owes at least that much to the city's taxpayers. Not only are taxpayers funding the police force, but they're also paying for their misdeeds. The Chicago PD -- one of the few government entities to have the audacity to run a domestic "black site" -- has racked up $662 million on lawsuit settlements in the last decade. The city's fucked pension plan system is ensuring that the next generation of Chicagoans -- and their neighboring Illinoians -- will be on the hook for the last generation's bad cops as well.

As for the Better Government Association, this refusal to cooperate with public records requests is just the same old police force, operating under the same old mayor.
This marks the fourth lawsuit the BGA has filed since 2014 against the police department, which is overseen by the mayor and well known for violating FOIA by ignoring, delaying or wrongly denying records requests.
The Chicago PD claims there's "insufficient public interest" to compel it to produce recordings of fatal shootings by its officers -- of which there have been more than 70 since 2011. I guess it has a very different definition of "public interest," as there was certainly massive amounts of public interest in the last shooting video it released -- one that was captured on recording equipment likely tampered with by officers on the scene.

The mayor's office is no better. It's been fending off FOIA requests for emails contained on Rahm Emanuel's personal phone, as well as other emails related to a no-bid school contract that is currently the subject of a federal investgation. Emanuel talked big about a "new era of transparency." One wonders who it was meant to apply to.

This isn't just Chicago and its police force. It's New York and its police force. It's a majority of federal government agencies. The DOJ still has unanswered requests from 1993 lying around. FOIA reform is an annual project for legislators, and every year the efforts are dismantled by agencies deathly afraid of additional transparency or accountability.

For the most part, this is what using your right to information looks like: a well-lit hallway that suddenly funnels into a dark hole with a padlocked door at the end. What should be a worst case scenario -- a public records lawsuit -- is far too often seen as a perfectly acceptable alternative to actually, you know, following the law.

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Filed Under: chicago, opacity, transparency

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2016 @ 2:42pm

    Dear Citizens...

    We would like to introduce the Emperor's new cloths!

    Please turn your attention to the array of finery on display and...


    Yep... sorry had to stop right there!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2016 @ 4:44pm

    I believe that you would find it difficult to find an uncorrupt government or law enforcement agency in the United States. Disband them all, Anarchy will be better then armed corrupt thugs ruling all. From the ashes a better system will emerge (it certainly is difficult to imagine it would be worse).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2016 @ 5:12pm


      It can always be worse, making that saying worthless to bring up as a defense instead of trying to improve things. Anarchy and Police state are at both sides of the spectrum and are equally terrible.

      However, it is not necessary to disband all, instead... you just mass fire an entire City... a BIG one and let the rest know they are coming for them soon if they do not clean up. Making an example of one tends to keep a lot in line. Psychology 101, it really does work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2016 @ 5:12pm

    why would a corrupt criminal group like the Chicago PD even report on how many people they fatally shoot?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 30 Mar 2016 @ 5:52pm

    Dear Citizen, we are being transparent about how opaque we are with information. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Aidian, 30 Mar 2016 @ 10:03pm

    Does Illinois sunshine/FOIA law actually...

    ...include some stupid public interest balance test to determine disclosure? Those are the worst possible aspect of some FOIA laws...and basically ensure that you have to sue all day every day to get anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 30 Mar 2016 @ 11:42pm

    Russian Openness

    It's easy to say openness. Repeat after me: "Openness! Openness!" Wasn't that easy?

    Just as easy as when the Russians did it: "Glasnost! Glasnost!"

    Turns out the results are about the same, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 12:25am

    Meanwhile, in a court in an alternate dimension...

    Judge: You are accused or pre-meditated murder without a badge, how do you plead?

    Defense: Not guilty your honor.

    Judge: Very well, Prosecution, present your evidence.

    Prosecution: Uhh, about that your honor... it seems that all the evidence is in the hands of the accused, and when I tried to obtain copies they claimed that there was 'Insufficient public interest' in having the information made public. As a result I... don't actually have any evidence to present.

    Judge: Insufficient public- Defense, a person is dead, how is it not in the public's interest to know how it occurred and and what's been done with regards to the one responsible?

    Defense: I'm afraid my client and I do not agree your honor. We feel that our personal investigation into the matter, conducted by a friend of my client is sufficient, though you are welcome to submit paperwork to argue your case, which will of course be answered in a prompt manner and for absolutely reasonable fees.

    Judge: How prompt?

    Defense: As I'm sure you are aware legally we are obligated to respond within six months, though unforeseen complications may arise that delay release of the information beyond that, potentially requiring significantly longer. This of course assumes that your initial request is within the scope of the law and requests the proper information, as a mistake in filing may require that you submit your request again to narrow down what exactly you are looking for so that it meets my cli- the law's requirements.

    Prosecution: And the fees?

    Defense: A search of responsive documents can be extremely time consuming and require paying completely reasonable fees to those doing the searches, and as I result we may require suitable payment to cover the costs. For something like this I would estimate a hundred or so hours of time, which at the completely reasonable rate of $25.00 per hour would lead require costs of $4000.

    Judge: One hundred times twenty-five... wait, shouldn't that be $2500?

    Defense: Processing fees your honor.

    Prosecution: Is there any other way to get the information?

    Defense: I'm afraid not, though given the reasonable nature of the requests we're asking for, I don't see any room to complain on your part.

    Judge: Prosecution, do you wish to dismiss the case without prejudice so that you request the relevant evidence and re-file later?

    Prosecution: I'm afraid I cannot your honor, my office's budget is completely drained thanks to several other pending requests for evidence, and we simply cannot afford it.

    Judge: In that case I must declare the defendant 'Not Guilty' by reason of insufficient evidence against them. Case dismissed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 31 Mar 2016 @ 7:37am

    Remember the parable of the scorpion

    It's not like Rahm Emanuel came out of nowhere. The guy was already a nationally-known public figure when he ran for mayor, and Chicagoans knew exactly what they were getting themselves into, and did it anyway.

    It's hard to have too much sympathy for them when the consequences of their actions become evident.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2016 @ 10:37am

    As an Illinoisian, I've oft proposed that we make a requirement that our officials already be felons. That way we know they'll be qualified for their position, and it makes getting the official declarations of said qualification later unnecessary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jef, 1 Apr 2016 @ 12:13am

    It's funny how "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" only applies to people who the government dislikes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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