The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) recently admitted to the Chicago Justice Project that they do not maintain exclusive control over the data they create.
In fact, IPRA maintains that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) owns the data. This is striking because IPRA is an independent civilian lead agency that is supposed to oversee the actions of the CPD, not the other way around. Only in Chicago could an oversight agency store their data in a database that is maintained by the agency they are overseeing.
On October 10, 2014, we filed a request for data from IPRA under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act. We sought to access data related to all the complaints against officers IPRA received in January 2013.
What we learned through our study of IPRA is that they do not have a standalone data system. Rather, they enter all of their data in to the CPD’s Citizen and Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) database. CLEAR is the CPD’s main database management system that controls the vast majority of data needs of the Chicago Police Department. The CPD, as may be expected, is the only group with administrative rights within CLEAR. This means that certain members of the CPD, not IPRA members, maintain rights and authority within CLEAR to access IPRA’s data, dumping data from CLEAR for analysis and or distribution when needed to respond to FOIA requests; or for any other nefarious purpose they want. You can just imagine the possibilities.
How do we know this?
On January 9, 2015 CJP talked to IPRA’s FOIA Officer and an unnamed IPRA technologist (my notes for some reason did not note his name) via phone and it was during this call that we learned that IPRA does not maintain their own data. In the same call we also learned that IPRA does not have the administrative rights within CLEAR to dump data to fulfill our FOIA request. The unnamed technologist did tell us that if we wanted the data we would have to get it from the CPD — startling admission to say the least.
At the end of this call, CJP agreed that the information provided during this phone conversation would satisfy our open FOIA request and that CJP would only require an on-paper response from IPRA stating they do not have the needed access to the CPD CLEAR database to fulfill our FOIA. For two months — despite our pestering through email and over the phone — IPRA never sent their final response to our FOIA.
On March 27, 2015, an IPRA lawyer called us to say that their technologists were working very hard to find workarounds using their limited access to the CPD’s CLEAR database to find a way to fulfill our FOIA. We agreed to an open-ended closure date while IPRA tried to find a way to fulfill our FOIA request. It seemed IRPA was hesitant to respond to CJP with the fact that they don’t have the access needed to fulfill our FOIA, and that if we really wanted the data we are requesting, we would have to send a FOIA to the CPD.
Well, CJP did not wait to get the response from IPRA (because it seemed obvious that IPRA is incapable of fulfilling our FOIA ) before we sought to access the data from the CPD. Five days later CJP filed a FOIA request seeking the same data but this time we filed with the CPD.
I don’t think the CPD liked the prospect of putting on paper that they maintain the rights within CLEAR to access IPRA data; we have yet to receive a response from the CPD despite the law stating we must receive a response within five working days.
On April 3rd we placed a call to the Records and Inquiry section of the police department to inquire about the status of our FOIA. Initially, they told us that while they do have a record in their system for us, they admitted they had received our FOIA but believed it was lost. After an internal search within the Records & Inquiry Section of the CPD they never found any record that anyone did any work responding to our request; to compensate, they were going to now print the request and forward it to their Internal Affairs Division to be fulfilled.
At some point soon it seems IPRA will have to admit on paper that they do not have the rights within the CPD’s CLEAR database to dump data from it to fulfill FOIA requests. Also the CPD will eventually have to go on the record saying that they maintain the rights within the CLEAR database to dump IPRA’s data to fulfill FOIAs; a very interesting situation both organizations have found themselves in.
The hypocrisy of this is right out there for everyone to taste, right?
The overseen (CPD) has to allow the overseer (IPRA) access to data the overseer (IPRA) creates in the process of overseeing the overseen (CPD).
That line is priceless!
What are some of the ramifications of this reality?
- It seems that at least one if not more members of the CPD can gain access to IPRA’s data for whatever they like, whether it be good or bad.
- The ability of IPRA to analyze the data they create to look for patterns within citizen complaints and subsequent investigations is limited by whatever capabilities are built into CLEAR. IPRA’s past Chief Administrator told us that if they wanted new fields added they had to request help from the CPD to add them.
- It seems that the settlement that Mayor Emanuel agreed to in the Kalven case regarding the opening of IPRA to the FOIA really amounts to nothing more than lip service if IPRA doesn’t have the ability to access their own data to fulfill FOIA requests.