CHICAGO – Chicago police misconduct investigation files will be made available to the public, after city attorneys decided not to continue fighting litigation pursuing their release, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said Sunday. The city previously had a long-standing policy of treating police misconduct incidents as personnel matters, which are exempt under FOIA laws.
“The city of Chicago had the option to continue to litigate this matter, but ultimately we concluded that – with proper safeguards in place – it will serve a greater public good to allow these investigations to be subject to open records laws,” city attorney Steve Patton said in a news release.
The police department will release investigative files in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. Standard FOIA exemptions will apply including those related to “burdensomeness.” There also will be redactions so investigations or witness confidentiality aren’t compromised.
“It is imperative to build trust and partnership between residents and the police. And this new policy is a step forward in that effort,” Emanuel said.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said releasing the records will demonstrate that the department “takes allegations of police misconduct seriously.”
A state appeals court ruled in March that the city couldn’t keep the records secret, and the city could have appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The case involved a FOIA request from independent journalist and activist Jamie Kalven.
“We applaud the policy sea change on this matter brought about by the Emanuel administration,” Kalven’s attorney, University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
The city said in its news release that thousands of police misconduct complaints are made annually in Chicago, “though the complainant failed to complete the required paperwork on fewer than half those cases.”