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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Citizen Complaints Against Officers Not Exempt From FOIA

A few years ago, the Illinois appellate court held in two separate cases that the City of Chicago's Complaint Registers or CRs (records generated by police oversight agencies' investigations of citizen complaints of alleged police misconduct) were not exempt from the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. We reported on one of these cases, Watkins v. McCarthy here. In sum, the appellate decisions rejected the City's argument that CRs are exempt from release under FOIA as personnel evaluation records, disciplinary records, or as an unwarranted invasion of the police officers' policies.

Recently, the appellate court encountered similar arguments in FOP et al. v. City of Chicago et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 143884. In this case, however, it was the police unions who were arguing that the records were not subject to FOIA, not the City. The unions argued that the CRs were not subject to release because they were protected by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Illinois Personnel Records Review Act. When the City received requests for these records from the Chicago Tribune, the unions filed a grievance against the City and sought an injunction from the circuit court barring the City from releasing the records. The arbitrators initially ruled in the unions' favor, as did the circuit court in granting a preliminary injunction barring the City from releasing the records. 

The City and Tribune appealed, and the case made its way to the appellate court, who rejected the unions' arguments. The appellate court held that that these CRs (citizen complaint records) were not exempt from release under FOIA, and to the extent that the IPRRA or the CBA was inconsistent with FOIA, FOIA would control. 

In short, the court found no valid FOIA exemption to justify withholding citizen complaint records from the public.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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