Illinois Supreme Court rules that police misconduct records cannot be destroyed, contrary to collective bargaining agreement

On June 18, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the need to keep police misconduct records outweighs a section in the collective bargaining agreement between the city of Chicago and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

At issue was Section 8.4 of the collective bargaining agreement, the Local Records Act, and the Freedom of Information Act. In 2011 and 2012, the FOP filed two grievances against the city of Chicago when the city refused to destroy complaint records that were more than five years old. The city denied both grievances and the FOP initiated arbitration.

Section 8.4 of the collective bargaining agreement reads, “All disciplinary investigation files, disciplinary history card entries, Independent Police Review Authority and Internal Affairs Division disciplinary records, and any other disciplinary record or summary of such record other than records related to Police Board cases, will be destroyed five (5) years after the date of the incident or the date upon which the violation is discovered, whichever is longer.”

In his opinion, Justice Lloyd Karmeier wrote, “We find further support that Illinois public policy demands the oversight of the destruction and maintenance of government records through creation of a State Records Commission which, under the State Records Act, similarly requires state agencies to seek the approval of the State Records Commission prior to the destruction of state records.” As for the right to contract, Karmeier wrote, “While parties are generally free to make their own contracts, this court has long held that when a conflict exists between a contract provision and state law, as it clearly does in this case, state law prevails.”

In his dissent, Justice Thomas Kilbride wrote that the court’s decision that the collective bargaining agreement violated state law foreclosed the possibility of the city of Chicago and the FOP meeting in order to renegotiate the contract to ensure better compliance with state law. He wrote, “I believe the parties should be allowed to meet and negotiate in accordance with the arbitrator’s directive. This court could retain jurisdiction and remand for negotiations. After proceeding with negotiations, it would be warranted for this court to review the status of any agreement.”

In response to the decision, FOP President John Catanzara said, “It goes against every ounce of logic there is… the contractual rights that were in our collective bargaining agreement for the better part of four decades were set in stone.” He said he is instructing the union’s lawyers to see if there is a way to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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