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City of Chicago v. Fraternal Order of Police

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  1. Freedom of Information

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 19 media organizations

Court: Supreme Court of Illinois

Date Filed: Feb. 13, 2020

Update: On June 18, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a provision in the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police’s collective bargaining agreement with the city of Chicago that called for the destruction of police disciplinary records more than five years old violated an “explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy” in the state of Illinois.

Background: The case centers around misconduct records produced in the course of investigations into Chicago Police Department officers.

Part of a decades-old collective bargaining agreement between the city of Chicago and the Fraternal Order of Police requires the city to destroy records of alleged police misconduct that are more than five years old. The city has long wanted to strike that provision of the agreement, intending to comply with public records requests for historical records of police misconduct. Unhappy with the city’s violation of their contract, the union initiated arbitration, with the goal of forcing the city to comply with the records-destruction provision.

In 2016, an arbitrator sided with the union, finding that the city violated the collective bargaining agreement. The city then filed a petition with the Circuit Court of Cook County to invalidate the arbitrator’s findings, arguing that the arbitration award violated Illinois public policy. The court ruled in favor of the city in 2017. After the police union appealed, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, affirmed the lower court ruling, concluding that Illinois statutes, including the state Freedom of Information Act, are grounded in public policy supporting the preservation of these records. The court rulings were additionally validated by an independent investigation by the Department of Justice that reached similar conclusions.

In response, the FOP appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Our Position: The Illinois Supreme Court should affirm the appellate court’s decision, which correctly ruled that the records-destruction provision included in the collective bargaining agreement is a violation of public policy.

  • Multiple Illinois statutes, including FOIA, clearly show the state’s public policy interest in requiring agencies to retain important public records to ensure government transparency.
  • The public’s right to information under FOIA can’t be bargained away when government entities contract with another party and those contracts circumvent public records obligations.
  • Preserving access to police misconduct records helps members of the news media report important stories about the actions of law enforcement.

Quote: “Access to the records sought to be preserved by the City in this case will enable members of the news media — and other members of the public, including social science researchers and historians — to analyze and report on issues critical to Chicago’s communities, while providing oversight, fostering accountability, and building institutional trust.”