The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of upholding the City of Chicago’s request to preserve all police misconduct records, a decision widely watched by police reform advocates amid protests against police abuses.
The legal challenge brought by the Chicago Chapter of Fraternal Order of Police, which represents roughly 12,000 Chicago officers, is considered to be a setback for the union.
The 6-to-1 ruling dealt with a single legal issue about whether the City of Chicago had a contractual requirement with the Chicago Police Union to destroy misconduct records older than five years.
Since January 1981, the City of Chicago and the Fraternal Order of Police have had a collective bargaining agreement that requires the “destruction of disciplinary and investigation records.” These files are part of investigations by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) and the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs of alleged misconduct by Chicago Police Department officers.
Up until 1991, the City destroyed police records, but that was changed when a federal district judge entered a 1991 order in a civil rights case requiring the city to stop destroying complaint register files. In 2011 and 2012, the Fraternal Order of Police filed two grievances over the city’s failure to destroy records older than five years. The city denied the police union’s request and the police union started arbitration.
The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision upheld a previous appellate court decision in July 2018 that sided with the city.
Justice Thomas Kilbride, the only judge voting against the decision, dissented with the opinion writing, “I firmly believe that police misconduct must be rooted out” but added that “there is, however a separate 'well-defined and dominate' public policy in state law to enforce collective-bargaining agreements.”