Two years ago, Chicago newspapers and air waves were full
of public discussion of patterns of police abuse, government secrecy, and
institutional denial. As converging
police scandals threatened to engulf his administration, Mayor Daley rebranded
the agency that investigates abuse complaints, appointed a new police
superintendent, and promised an era of reform.
Today public debate is muted. There are several reasons for this. Among them is the unresolved status of a key
legal issue, arising from Bond v. Utreras, a federal civil rights alleging police abuse.
In 2007, Judge Joan Lefkow of the U.S. District Court ruled in Bond that
certain police documents—including the complaint files of the individual
officer defendants and a list of 662 officers with the most citizen complaints in a five year period—are public information.
In a strong, eloquent opinion, Judge Lefkow went back
to first principles. Such information
must be available to the public, she wrote, so we as citizens can hold
accountable the public officials we have entrusted with the powers to detain,
arrest, and use force.
The City appealed Lefkow’s ruling to the Seventh Circuit
of the U.S. Court of Appeals. It has
been pending there for more than two years.
For much of this period, the public conversation has been frozen in a state of
In the meantime, the legal struggle over official secrecy
has continued unabated. If anything, it
has intensified. It is being waged on
multiple fronts. The City has worked
tirelessly to maintain its regime of secrecy. And civil rights attorneys have
countered with strategies to force greater transparency.