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Police Disciplinary Records Must Be Released, Judge Rules

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 8, 2016 8:54PM

Decades worth of police disciplinary records must be released to the public, a Cook County judge ruled on Friday.

The Fraternal Order of Police sued in 2014 to block release of the files, which date back to 1967. The union argued that the city was required under the collective bargaining agreement to destroy disciplinary records more than four years old and that personnel files were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

Cook County Circuit Judge Peter Flynn disagreed with the claim. 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,'" he wrote in the decision.

Back in March 2014, an appellate court ruled that such documents are public, and thus applicable to FOIA requests. But after three separate requests for misconduct files—from journalist James Kalven (Invisible Institute), the Tribune, and the Sun-Times—the FOP filed a lawsuit, and a judge issued an injunction that prevented release of documents. Arbiters at first ruled in favor of the union. But they reversed their opinion after the Department of Justice —brought in to examine police use of force after the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video—made a recommendation to city lawyers that such documents be kept.

The ruling comes on the heels of two days of City Council meetings in which aldermen took testimony about police accountability, and demonstrators advocated for a civilian-elected review board.

The recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile galvanized protests against excessive police force here in Chicago and nationwide. An apparent sniper attack on Thursday night in Dallas that killed five officers and wounded seven more was roundly condemned by local activists.