Ever wonder how much interaction there is between Chicago aldermen and Chicago police commanders?

So did we, so we asked for copies of any and all emails between them during a random week in September.

It seemed like a simple ask – the Illinois Freedom of Information Act allows public access to public records in possession of government – but the Chicago Police Department (and by extension the Emanuel administration, which oversees CPD) proved once again that few things are easy.

Our Sept. 15, 2014, request went unanswered – even though state law mandated a response within five business days.

So we sued on Oct. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court, demanding that CPD turn over the records and be punished for violating the law.

At the time, we issued a press release about the lawsuit, saying:

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.

Just before the holidays – finally – CPD turned over records, more than 100 pages. (We’re including the documents below for anyone’s viewing pleasure. You’ll see contact between aldermen and commanders, mostly over crime and service issues.)

Accompanying those records was a letter from the city’s Law Department indicating that CPD hadn’t blown off our request. Rather, “there was a technical issue with CPD’s e-mail system that had to be corrected.”

You see, we submitted our FOIA request via email. But CPD didn’t tell us about this “technical issue” until after we were forced to file suit, and the explanation doesn’t add up anyway.

There always seems to be something – deadlines blown, requests missed altogether and documents, even when they are turned over, often heavily redacted. And excuses.

This speaks to a much larger accessibility and transparency problem at CPD.

We’re familiar with interview requests made by another news operation about crimes on the North Side over the past year or more. The district routinely blows off those reporters, and News Affairs is usually of little help, too.

However, the CPD records we just obtained show that when an alderman wants information, the communication can flow seamlessly.

In one instance, an alderman inquired via email about a shooting. The commander of a Northwest Side district wrote back in 20 minutes with a detailed description, and pledging that if he found out “any more details about why the victim was there and what the nature of the conflict was about, I will call you.”

This blog post was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth, who can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or rherguth@bettergov.org.

CPDfoiaResponse (PDF)
CPDfoiaResponse (Text)