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City Fights to Keep Police Misconduct Complaints Secret

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City Fights to Keep Police Misconduct Complaints Secret

New CPD Superintendent Jody Weis has made major moves to fight police misconduct since taking the post. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Judges on the seventh circuit court of appeals were not very sympathetic Tuesday to attorneys who want the city of Chicago to release a list of complaints against police officers. The judges will decide whether the city can keep the list secret.

The list includes the names of police officers who have racked up more than 10 complaints in a five year period, with some having more than 50 complaints. Attorneys also want files that show how the department investigated the complaints. Jon Loevy is among a group of attorneys fighting for the information to be made public. That fight is taking place in the appeals court. Loevy got only part way through his first sentence yesterday before he was interrupted by circuit court judge Michael Kanne.

LOEVY: With due respect your honors, this is not an unusual...

KANNE: Never start out that way because you mean you don’t have respect.

That was just the beginning of the sparring between Loevy and the judges on the appeals court panel. Attorneys aren’t actually fighting to get the files, they already have them, but they want to make them public. They point to a string of recent scandals to emphasize the need for transparency in how the department investigates its own. The city gave the records in question to attorneys who filed a lawsuit over alleged police misconduct. The records were part of a pre-trial exchange of information called discovery. Mara Georges, the top attorney for Chicago, says the city turned over thousands of documents in that case.

GEORGES: We gave over documents freely and if third parties to that litigation were able to come in and then seize those documents, print them on the front page of a newspaper, then we would have to fight over every piece of information that went out to a plaintiff in discovery.

That would complicate every future lawsuit filed against the city. But aside from the legal precedents and arguments about discovery materials, it’s clear the city doesn’t want to release this information. Peter Brust is a former F-B-I agent who was recently hired by Chicago’s top cop to bring credibility to how the department handles complaints against police. He says it’s important to investigate but he says a lot of complaints are bogus.

BRUST: So the mere fact that an officer may be subject to a citizen complaint, for purposes of officer safety for purposes of privacy, the safety of the officers family and the integrity of the process, that the names of these officers should not be released to the public merely because they’ve been the subject of a citizen complaint.

Attorneys pushing to get the list released say the files show that the police department does a bad job investigating allegations of misconduct and rooting out bad cops. That’s information that is of interest to Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle. She’s among a group of 28 Chicago aldermen who have joined the case and are trying to force the city to release the files.

PRECKWINKLE: It’s important for us to have information about who those troubled officers are so that we can take whatever action we need to with our local commanders and with the superintendent of police.

The city did give aldermen a version of the list last summer though the officers names had been blacked out. It’s a couple hundred of pages long. But to take just one example from the first page it shows that 55 complaints were lodged against one officer during a five year period. After police investigated each allegation, they found that not a single one merited an action or reprimand of any sort.

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