Illinois state appeals court ruled that misconduct complaints against Chicago police are public record and cannot be kept secret.
The ruling rejected law enforcement’s claim that the complaints were exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Files alleging misconduct by police, and officers who’ve received the most complaints, must be released to the public when requested.
The court sided with law enforcement in one situation, ruling that should a citizen complaint lead to disciplinary action against an officer, records from that process can remain confidential.
Law professor Margaret Kwoka of the University of Denver said police won’t be able to remove much information if the ruling stands, and that it “would give the public a lot more information about complaints of police misconduct and the investigations taken in response to those complaints.”
“It can never apply to factual material, only to recommendations or opinions,” she added. “I presume the city will attempt to redact some portions of the files on that basis, but I can’t imagine it will be successful in withholding much.”
University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman said,“I really do think this is a watershed moment in Illinois in terms of police transparency and accountability”
“Police officers do not have recognized privacy interests in complaints of misconduct,We entrust cops with a lot of power, power to use force and even to shoot and kill. They have to have that power to do their jobs. But with that power comes responsibility, This will allow the public to evaluate whether the process of these complaints being investigated is a good process that we can trust in.”
The police department can still redact before releasing the documents, the appeals court said police cannot block the identities of the officers or the alleged complaint against them, but that things can be removed like personal information, telephone numbers, the identity of the complaint filer.