The Village of Oak Lawn’s administration has quietly decided to end the practice of providing full police incident reports to the press or the Village Trustees, creating a potential legal showdown.
The Oak Lawn Leaf acquired an email sent to village officials last Thursday from Oak Lawn’s Chief of Police who wrote:
You will notice that the reports are no longer individually sent. Reports, moving forward, will first be redacted of personally identifiable information before they are sent out via email. This practice will also apply to the reports provided to the press. You will still receive all of the same reports only they will be in the redacted form. This practice is an effort to protect the Village from litigation. Thank you for your understanding.
Chief Michael J. Murray
Oak Lawn Police Department
9446 S. Raymond
Oak Lawn, IL 60453
Desk – Redacted phone number
The reports in a redacted form will eliminate the addresses and other “personally identifiable information”, which means someone in the police department will have to review each report and eliminate that information from the reports.
The new policy continues a battle with the Chief of Police, who unilaterally decided to eliminate the practice of providing some reports based on the nature of the crime. For instance, domestic arrests are not included and accidents are not included.
Both the policy of eliminating some reports and then redacting information on the reports provided is contrary to Illinois law, according to the Oak Lawn Leaf’s legal counsel, Dennis Brennan. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act requires all arrest reports and criminal histories to be provided. The law states:
Sec. 2.15. Arrest reports and criminal history records.
(a) Arrest reports. The following chronologically maintained arrest and criminal history information maintained by State or local criminal justice agencies shall be furnished as soon as practical, but in no event later than 72 hours after the arrest, notwithstanding the time limits otherwise provided for in Section 3 of this Act: (i) information that identifies the individual, including the name, age, address, and photograph, when and if available; (ii) information detailing any charges relating to the arrest; (iii) the time and location of the arrest; (iv) the name of the investigating or arresting law enforcement agency; (v) if the individual is incarcerated, the amount of any bail or bond; and (vi) if the individual is incarcerated, the time and date that the individual was received into, discharged from, or transferred from the arresting agency’s custody.
(b) Criminal history records. The following documents maintained by a public body pertaining to criminal history record information are public records subject to inspection and copying by the public pursuant to this Act: (i) court records that are public; (ii) records that are otherwise available under State or local law; and (iii) records in which the requesting party is the individual identified, except as provided under Section 7(1)(d)(vi).
(c) Information described in items (iii) through (vi) of subsection (a) may be withheld if it is determined that disclosure would: (i) interfere with pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings conducted by any law enforcement agency; (ii) endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement or correctional personnel or any other person; or (iii) compromise the security of any correctional facility.
(d) The provisions of this Section do not supersede the confidentiality provisions for law enforcement or arrest records of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987.
Brennan said that the Oak Lawn Leaf has made a Freedom of Information request for all police reports based on the above statute. “We had allowed the Chief (Murray) to pick and choose which reports he would give but we are no longer willing to do so based on his decision to blatantly ignore the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.”
Rumors within the Village of Oak Lawn have swirled that an insider’s family member was recently named in a police report and the new policy is an attempt to hide the full identity of the offender. Brennan said he didn’t hear about that rumor but the labeled the police chief’s excuse about litigation “laughable”. He noted that many newspapers carry police blotters or report on crimes.
Brennan said that the Oak Lawn Leaf would expect other media outlets, including the Daily Southtown, the Oak Lawn Reporter, the Village View, the Oak Lawn Independent and the Oak Lawn Patch to also file requests for the full arrest reports.
According to the public records of the Cook County Circuit Court, the Village of Oak Lawn has not been sued for releasing any of the criminal information. Previously, Trustee Robert Streit criticized the administration for hiding reports of crime. Streit said that the new policy was not discussed at any board meeting and criticized the decision. “The lack of transparency is ridiculous and the public has the right to know what crimes are occurring and how to protect themselves”, said Streit.
The Oak Lawn Leaf has not yet received a response to its Freedom of Information request.