FOIA this, CPD

By Editor-in-Chief

For more than 12 years, The Chronicle has run some version of “Off The Blotter,” the back page section of the newspaper detailing crimes that have occurred within the South Loop.

 This week, our readers will find that the blotter section is less detailed than normal. On Sept. 4, several reporters and editors from The Chronicle were informed that the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District office would no longer allow our staff reporters to view detailed incident reports. 

 Instead, the district will only provide The Chronicle with a nondescript list detailing the type, date and address of crimes. The reports, which neither name victims nor suspects, offer more insight into the scope of South Loop crime and allowed our Metro desk to better inform our readership of the state of  campus safety on their campus and the areas around it.

 Despite repeated attempts at contact and several messages over a two week-span, Alfred Nagode, commander of the 1st District, has yet to explain why The Chronicle can no longer view the detailed incident reports.

 However, a representative from CPD’s Office of News Affairs said Sept. 11 that the ability to view the detailed incident reports is a courtesy that is afforded at the discretion of each district’s commander.

 The representative further explained that CPD’s official policy has always been to require that parties interested in detailed records submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the department’s FOIA office.

 The representative was unable to clarify why this is the policy or why a commander would withhold such information but did recommend using ClearPath, an online data portal managed by CPD that aggregates crime reports, or submitting a FOIA request each week.

 There are several problems with those suggested courses of action, though. ClearPath only lists crimes as recent as a week prior, and as we understand, under Illinois law, as we understand it, agencies have five days to respond to a FOIA request, meaning a request cannot guarantee that The Chronicle will have up-to-date crime reports in time to be published.

 As an editor, I am baffled that a 12-year relationship between the Chronicle’s student reporters and CPD can be ended so abruptly without a logical rationale.

 As a South Loop resident, I am furious that the District office would hide behind such a policy.  

 CPD can refer reporters to its policy as much as it would like, but that does not detract from the fact that it blatantly wields its policy as a bureaucratic shield meant to deflect journalists from doing their jobs.

 Furthermore, its policy does not mitigate the fact that those responsible for ending our arrangement think that radio silence is a legitimate and professional way of responding to the change. It is deplorable, particularly when it is clear that the bulk of our readership consists of college students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time and do not truly understand how dangerous the South Loop can be.

 Compared to other districts, the South Loop is relatively safe and is not plagued by the same types of crime that affect other districts, but as this week’s and past weeks’ blotters can prove, it is certainly not devoid of crime. 

 At a time when Chicago is a household name for its crime rates rather than its virtues, there is an inherent need for CPD to be more transparent—which would include allowing journalists and private citizens to view the detailed reports without jumping through hoops intended to do nothing more than delay those seeking information.