Journalist-Activist Hails Police Records Dump | WBEZ
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Journalist-Activist Hails Police Records Dump

A journalist and human-rights activist who has fought for more than a decade to shine light on Chicago police misconduct is hailing the city’s release of data on more than 100,000 complaints.

“This is precisely the information we need to diagnose the underlying problems and pathologies in the police department,” said Jamie Kalven, co-founder of the Invisible Institute, a journalistic production company on the South Side. “This is a big deal.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration posted the data late Wednesday, capping a legal battle that picked up steam in 2014 when Chicago newspapers requested records about all complaints filed against officers since 1967.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents 10,000 Chicago officers, argued that its contract with the city banned the release. An Illinois appeals court in July ruled that the records were subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The data for each incident includes basics such as the accused officer’s name; whether the complaint alleges excessive force, an improper search, theft or another type of misconduct; whether investigators found the cop at fault; and whether officials delivered any punishment.

The records cover all “complaint register” cases that officials had closed by October 2014. Those include matters investigated by the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs and the city’s Independent Police Review Authority.

The records do not include probes of shootings by officers nor “summary punishment action requests” for minor infractions such as arriving late for duty or failing to appear in court.

The data also do not reflect incidents leading to lawsuits and restraining-order requests against cops unless there was also an administrative complaint.

Public analysis of the records started slowly because the Emanuel administration provided the information for complaints since 2000 in a format difficult to convert to a spreadsheet or database.

The release comes as the U.S. Department of Justice investigates Chicago policing and the city overhauls its officer-oversight system.  

Those efforts began last winter during a public outcry over a police dashboard-camera video showing a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald in October 2014. The city had withheld the video until a judge ordered its release in November 2015.

The complaint data’s release “is just the beginning,” Kalven said. “There’s now irreversible momentum for transparency in law enforcement.”

Leaders of the FOP and Chicago Police Sergeants' Association did not respond to requests for comment.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him @ChipMitchell1.

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