Director of Policy
Better Government Association
Chicago’s City Council is once again considering a measure that would allow the Chief Administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) to partially redact final reports published on the COPA website.
The ordinance, O2022-911, allows the COPA chief to redact from COPA’s final reports prior to their mandatory publishing on the COPA website “a recommendation of discipline or other, nondisciplinary remedial actions against a member of the Police Department if it is known to the Chief Administrator that such member of the Police Department is deceased.”
Since the redaction powers apply only to the record posted on the COPA website, and the state’s Freedom of Information Act law does not address website publication, the ordinance is not in violation of FOIA. However, it creates two sets of records for each COPA report: an official, state-compliant report that can only be obtained through FOIA request, and a separate, redacted, non-FOIA-compliant version published on COPA’s website.
The Better Government Association is strongly committed to reliable, open, and transparent public records, and opposes the creation and publication of official reports at the municipal level that do not comply with state FOIA requirements. Creating two differing versions of the same public record creates confusion as to which version is “official.” Additionally, FOIA compliance staff are placed at risk of providing a non-FOIA-compliant document in response to requests. The section of O2022-911 allowing redaction powers in excess of state FOIA requirements should be struck before passage.
O2022-911 also contains provisions for timely response to recommendations of police discipline. These were a welcome addition to the ordinance and are not in conflict with FOIA or other transparency laws, and BGA welcomes their consideration by the City Council.
Members of the Public Safety Committee are urged to vote “Do Not Pass” if a measure authorizing retroactive redaction of public records is called for a vote.