Public Access Opinion 19-008

Improper Redaction of Information in Police Reports

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 19-008
Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The City of Joliet Police Department (Department) violated FOIA by improperly redacting information from narrative sections of police reports. A reporter (Requestor) submitted a FOIA request to the Department for records regarding the arrests of two named individuals on June 3, 2019. A week later, the Department provided the Requestor with copies of records but redacted nearly the entire narrative sections that described the facts observed at the scene of the arrests. The Department relied on multiple FOIA exemptions for its redactions, including Sections 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(c). On June 13, 2019, the Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC contesting the Department’s redactions of the narrative sections. In responding to the PAC’s inquiries, the Department added an assertion that Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA also applied to exempt the narrative sections from disclosure to the Requestor.

Section 7(1)(a) exempts from disclosure any “[i]nformation specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law.” The Department claimed that Supreme Court Rule 415(c) was just such a State law because it states that “any materials furnished to an attorney pursuant to these rules shall remain in his exclusive custody and be used only for the purposes of conducting his side of the case, and shall be subject to such other terms and conditions as the court may provide." The PAC was not persuaded by this argument and found that Rule 415(c) does not specifically prohibit disclosure of the narratives to the Requestor because he is not a criminal defendant seeking discovery materials for his criminal case.

Reviewing the other exemptions claimed by the Department, the PAC found that while the Department properly redacted discreet private information pursuant to Section 7(1)(b), it  improperly relied upon Section 7(1)(c) to redact the narratives because they “document arrests and because arrests are legitimate matters of public interest that outweigh arrestees' privacy rights” and “the Department failed to prove that any information in the narratives discussing the circumstances surrounding the arrests is exempt from disclosure.”
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.