BGA sues Chicago Police Department over transparency

Online Staff Report

CHICAGO — In September, the Better Government Association (BGA) asked the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to turn over copies of any correspondence between aldermen and district commanders over a one-week period.

Hoping to gauge political influence in the policing process, the BGA made the request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, the state law that guarantees public and press access to government documents. The law requires that public agencies turn over documents, upon request, usually within five business days.

But CPD didn’t turn over records within that time frame. In fact, the agency failed to even respond to the BGA — which has become something of a pattern, with other requests being improperly delayed or ignored altogether.

This lack of transparency prompted the BGA to sue CPD on Oct. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court.

The requirements of FOIA … are so sufficiently clear that Chicago Police Department’s failures to comply with the requirements are willful and intentional violations of FOIA and acts of bad faith,” the lawsuit contends.

This lawsuit follows a similar complaint filed recently against another public agency controlled by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D): Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

CPS similarly ignored and delayed open records requests by the BGA and others, so the BGA and NBC 5 filed suit in September. That case is pending.

Meanwhile, the BGA has two other pending lawsuits against the Emanuel administration for its refusal to release video and emails that would shed light on questionable conduct at Chicago Animal Care and Control — the city agency tasked with dealing with lost and abandoned pets, and wildlife issues.

The BGA has another pending transparency lawsuit against the Chicago Transit Authority, also in Emanuel’s domain.

The city administration has to understand that we don’t work for them — government records are the people’s records, and state transparency laws exist for a reason,” said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. “CPD, like all public agencies, has to follow state law. They can’t pick and choose what information to release to taxpayers.

The city’s cavalier approach to our FOIA requests is arrogant, wrong-headed and, we believe, illegal,” Shaw concluded.

Posted Oct. 22, 2014

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