Illinois Supreme Court denies Chicago police union request to destroy misconduct records

Illinois Supreme Court denies Chicago police union request to destroy misconduct records

While Illinois law explicitly states union contracts trump all other state laws, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled a police contract allowing the destruction of disciplinarily records defies public policy and cannot be enforced.

The Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion June 18 denying a police union request to destroy police disciplinary records five years after the date of the incident or discovery of the incident.

The Fraternal Order of Police argued its collective bargaining agreement with the City of Chicago requires the destruction of records, despite state law to the contrary. The court disagreed.

The ruling helps provide much needed transparency in a city that has been rocked with police misconduct scandals in the past, and during nationwide calls for police reform.

The union contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police has inhibited public knowledge and investigation of police misconduct for decades.

Baked into section 8.4 of the contract is the following provision:

All disciplinary investigation files, disciplinary history card entries, IPRA and IAD 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…

This section effectively allowed the union to hide police misconduct once five years passed. Not only were such files unobtainable by the public, but they also were no longer accessible in subsequent internal investigations of officer misconduct.

But on June 18, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the enforcement of section 8.4 defies state law establishing “a well-defined public policy favoring the proper retention of important public records for access by the public.”

Specifically, the court held the provision in 8.4 is trumped by the state’s Local Records Act, which prohibits the destruction of public records.

And that means the union can no longer hide police misconduct once five years have passed.

While the case involved only the Fraternal Order of Police contract, substantially similar provisions also are included in the City of Chicago’s contracts with sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

In addition to championing transparency, the court’s decision strikes a blow to Illinois’ collective bargaining laws. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act states the following:

(b) Except as provided in subsection (a) above, any collective bargaining contract between a public employer and a labor organization executed pursuant to this Act shall supersede any contrary statutes, charters, ordinances, rules or regulations relating to wages, hours and conditions of employment and employment relations adopted by the public employer or its agents.

After citing this section, the court went on to hold that union contracts, and arbitration awards based on those contracts, cannot trump state law where a “public policy exception” exists.

The court repeated precedent that it “will not enforce a collective-bargaining agreement that is repugnant to established norms of public policy.”

In his dissent from the majority opinion, Justice Thomas L. Kilbride noted the state’s labor laws establish a “‘well-defined and dominant’ public policy” favoring collective bargaining and the enforcement of arbitration awards.

In other words, the court was deciding between competing public policies: the non-destruction of public records versus the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards.

And the court chose public interest over enforcement of those union contract provisions.

While the Illinois Supreme Court did not explicitly overrule the Illinois statutory provision allowing collective bargaining agreements to trump state law, this decision certainly undermines its effect.

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