Chicago Accused of Tossing 911 Tapes Too Early

CHICAGO (CN) – The Chicago Civil Rights Project took the city to court to stop it from destroying 911 and other emergency recordings after 30 days, claiming they still have legal value to both civil and criminal cases.

CCRP says in its lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court that it is an unincorporated association of attorneys focused on civil rights and police accountability.

The group says the city of Chicago, through its Office of Emergency Management and Communication, or OEMC, records all 911 calls and radio communications between officers in the city and keeps those records for 30 days before destroying them.

This process, the lawsuit states, “is a relic of a time in which recordings were stored on physical tape and needed to be overwritten for cost reasons. All 911 recordings now exist digitally.”

But CCRP claims OEMC still destroys the records, despite both civil and criminal cases typically taking longer than 30 days to develop.

“Criminal defendants are not always arrested within 30 days of the alleged crime being committed,” the complaint states. “Criminal defense attorneys rarely come into possession of information suggesting that 911 or other recordings may be relevant to the accused until after the 30-day deadline has passed, and civil rights lawsuits are rarely filed within 30 days of a 911 call that is relevant to the claim.”

According to CCRP, the Illinois Local Records Act “conditions destruction of 911 recordings on the certification by OEMC that the recordings for which disposal is sought to comply with the conditions in the application: that the recordings in question do not contain any relevant evidence in any proceeding either pending or anticipated.” (Emphasis in original.)

“Officers of OEMC have certified for decades that the 911 recordings that they seek to destroy meet the above conditions without conducting any affirmative investigation and with knowledge that the current system is inadequate to ensure compliance,” the lawsuit states.

CCRP seeks a writ of mandamus requiring Chicago to stop destroying 911 recordings and to transfer 911 recordings that exist in any back-up system into its primary system, so they will be available for public requests.

The group is represented by Matthew Topic of Loevy & Loevy, J. Nicholas Albukerk of and Daniel J. Stohr, all in Chicago.

A spokesperson for the city’s law department did not respond to a request for comment made Thursday afternoon.

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