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Police Disciplinary Records Dating To 1967 Must Be Made Public, Court Rules

By Tanveer Ali | July 8, 2016 1:24pm | Updated on July 11, 2016 1:10pm
 The city must make public every Chicago Police disciplinary file dating to 1967, a Cook County judge ruled Friday. 
The city must make public every Chicago Police disciplinary file dating to 1967, a Cook County judge ruled Friday. 
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CHICAGO — The city must make public every Chicago Police Department disciplinary file dating to 1967, according to an appellate court panel.

The Fraternal Order of Police filed suit in 2014 to block the release of the files on grounds that they were personnel files exempt from freedom of information laws and that they should have been destroyed in the first place.

The "files are not personnel files in any sense because they pertain to the 'initiation, investigation and resolution of complaints of misconduct made by the public against police officers,'" Justice Shelvin Hall wrote in the opinion.

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In 2014, journalist Jamie Kalven successfully sued to release Chicago Police complaint records from 2011 to 2015.

Last year, Kalven's Invisible Institute unveiled its Citizens Police Data Project, highlighting more than 28,000 disciplinary cases during that period.

After that win, Kalven, the Tribune and the Sun-Times asked the city for every complaint filed since 1967.

“The court has confirmed that citizens have a right to know about police abuse, past and present. This information belongs to them," Kalven said in a statement. "Now it’s time for the Illinois legislature to act by embodying this principle in state law.  We need legislation that protects police disciplinary records against future threats of destruction."

The city agreed to do so, but the Fraternal Order of Police moved to block the release saying it was in conflict with the police union contract.

The police contract says that all disciplinary files will be destroyed five years after the date of the incident or the date the violation was discovered, whichever is longer. Complaints of criminal conduct or excessive force that are not sustained are kept seven years.

In November 2015, before the release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video, an arbitrator said the city had violated the contract and ordered the city to destroy online records that are more than 5 years old.

Following the release, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate Chicago Police Department use of force.

In February, the arbitrator reversed his decision, saying that in "light of recent developments" destroying the existing records would be in "direct contravention of what has become a clear and predominant public policy."

The online records still may be destroyed, but not before those records are disclosed to those who requested the information through the Freedom of Information Act requests, the panel ruled.

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